It’s one thing to say you have the heart of a champion, but it’s another thing entirely to prove it when your backs are against the wall.
Union entered Wednesday’s WPIAL Class 1A title game as the top seed and defending champion, but the Scotties (17-3) had to pick themselves up off the ground not once but twice against Carmichaels, climbing back from multiple deficits of three-plus runs to escape with a dramatic 10-8 win at Lilley Field in California, Pa. The Mighty Mikes (18-1) had runners on second and third in the top of the seventh inning, but Union pitcher Mia Preuhs struck out Carmichaels star Carys McConnell to bring the Scotties their second consecutive WPIAL crown.
“It’s better than the first time,” Union coach Doug Fisher said. “This team, I don’t doubt them. Once we get down — we’ve got bats all the way through, so I really wasn’t sweating it too bad.”
Even in defeat, McConnell showcased why she earned the label of a freshman phenom while leading the Mighty Mikes to an undefeated regular season, finishing 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles and five RBIs on the afternoon. She headlines an outstanding young core for Carmichaels, which appears to have a bright future in store.
“[McConnell] is probably the best all-around player in [Class] 1A,” Briggs said. “It’s hard to get here. … Every game is a learning experience. The biggest thing for us is we’ve got to be able to regroup.”
Sophomore Addie Nogay went 2 for 4 with two RBIs, freshman Olivia Williams went 2 for 3 with an RBI and a pair of runs scored, and junior Tori May finished 1 for 2 with a walk, an RBI and three runs scored. Preuhs gave up eight runs in an uncharacteristic performance, but she struck out 11 while pitching a complete game to earn the win. The Scotties were charged with six errors in the game, but still managed to find a way to come out on top.
Last year, Union entered as the fearless underdog taking on a five-time defending champion in West Greene and pulled off a stunning 3-2 upset to win its first WPIAL title. This time around, the Scotties were the defending champs with the target on their backs, and Fisher and his players agreed it was even sweeter winning it the second time around.
“It feels better [this year]. It feels different. It was a better atmosphere and a better team,” May said. “I felt like we had to battle back every time [we fell behind]. We actually had to want it more.”
Carmichaels wasted no time setting the tone for the game, scoring three runs in the top of the first inning after back-to-back doubles by McConnell and Ali Jacobs and an RBI single by Bailey Barnyak. Union then answered with a run in the bottom half, but the Mighty Mikes tacked on two more on a two-run single by McConnell in the top of the second.
Williams came through with an RBI single for the Scotties in the bottom of the second, and a run scored on a passed ball cut the deficit to 5-3. Union then tied things up with a two-run double by Bella Cameron, knotting the score at 5-5 in the bottom of the third.
Once again, McConnell came up huge with a two-run double in the top of the fourth to put Carmichaels back on top, and an RBI single by Jacobs made it an 8-5 lead for the Mighty Mikes. But this one was far from over.
The Scotties stormed back with five runs in the bottom of the fifth, with a bases-loaded walk tying the score again before Nogay delivered a go-ahead two-run double that turned out to be the difference in the game. Carmichaels managed to put runners on second and third in the top of the sixth, but Preuhs struck out Kaitlyn Waggett swinging to end the threat.
“I knew it was coming. I kind of had a feeling,” Nogay said. “[Preuhs] knows how to lock it down when she needs to. She’s great.”
In the top of the seventh, the Mighty Mikes again advanced runners to second and third, and once again Preuhs was there to put the fire out for Union with a game-ending strikeout to clinch the Scotties’ second consecutive Class 1A championship.
“I really never doubted it,” Fisher said. “It’s funny to say that, but I’ve got faith in them. I’ve got some great hitters. … They’ve got a lot of gold under their belts.”