With its perfect season and a chance to make history on the line, defending champion Neshannock came into Thursday’s WPIAL Class 2A championship game against Laurel facing an enormous amount of pressure.
You never would have guessed it by the way the Lancers played.
Smiling, laughing and joking around while taking the field together for pregame introductions, Neshannock’s players appeared as loose and carefree as can be going into the monumental main-event showdown against the arch-rival Spartans (16-3). The Lancers (20-0) fell into an early 1-0 hole, but instead of panicking, they punched back with a pair of massive home runs by sophomores Addy Frye and Gabby Quinn en route to a historic 12-2 mercy-rule win.
The win extends Neshannock’s winning streak to 46 games in a row, tying Hempfield for what is believed to be the longest streak in WPIAL history. The Lancers will have a chance to break the all-time record in a PIAA first-round playoff game on Monday.
“There really was that pressure, just knowing that’s the team that I would say, I think, can beat us, if everything is falling their way,” Neshannock coach Jackie Lash said about Laurel. “I just talked to them about how we haven’t had this situation where we’re down very often, so now it’s time to show everybody that you’re the best and show them how hard you can play.”
Coming off an undefeated season that included WPIAL and PIAA titles, the Lancers are now the second team to win back-to-back WPIAL titles without losing a game after Beaver did so in 2021-22. Beaver lost in last year’s state semifinals, though, and no WPIAL team has ever completed back-to-back perfect seasons. Neshannock is now four wins away from becoming the first team ever to do so.
“It would definitely be special. It’s what we’re shooting for now at this point,” Lash said. “This is a great team to be with.”
One of the top two-way stars in the state, Frye put her talents on full display Thursday. The sophomore sensation went 2 for 4 with a home run and five RBIs while allowing two runs on nine hits in six innings of work. Frye struck out nine batters and walked only two.
“I think we have all it takes [to win another state title],” Frye said. “We have the dedication, we have the talent and we have the coaching. We have everything it takes.”
Both teams wasted golden opportunities to get the scoring started in the first inning, as Laurel stranded runners on first and third and Neshannock left the bases loaded after putting runners on second and third with nobody out. The Spartans then struck first on an RBI single by freshman Mayci Lang in the top of the second, bringing home Georgia Jellyman to give Laurel an early 1-0 lead.
After the Spartans threatened to break the game open by loading the bases with one out in the top of the third, Frye struck out back-to-back batters to escape another jam without any damage. The Lancers finally made Laurel pay for the missed opportunity in the bottom of the third, tying the score after freshman Jaidon Nogay tripled and scored on an error. Quinn then delivered her big three-run bomb to put Neshannock in front, 4-1.
“It was just one of those where you couldn’t even feel it hit the bat,” Quinn said about her home run. “We were here last year, too, so we understood how everything was going to work. … Just knowing that you have such good teammates on your team, it really takes away from all the nerves.”
Again the Spartans had a chance to put up a big inning in the top of the fourth, but they stranded a pair of runners to squander another opportunity. The Lancers took advantage again in the bottom half of the inning, as Frye belted a towering two-run home run that snuck just inside the left-field foul pole.
“A lot of these girls are friends. We see them all winter long,” said Laurel coach Frank Duddy, referencing the mutual respect between the Lawrence County rivals. “Credit to those guys. [Frye] is a great pitcher, and they’ve got a lights-out defense. … We live to fight another day. I’m not giving up on anybody.”
Junior Addie Deal singled home Grace Zeppelin to cut the deficit to 6-2 in the top of the fifth, and the Spartans got a runner on first base with one out in the sixth. Neshannock brought a quick end to the rally, though, turning a 6-4-3 double play to keep its four-run cushion intact.
Frye helped her own cause once again in the bottom of the sixth, bringing home both Aaralyn and Jaidon Nogay with a laser up the middle for a two-run single. That kickstarted a surge of offense for the Lancers, as junior Abigale Measel followed with a two-run single of her own after a bases-loaded walk drawn by junior Gabby Perod.
Then, with the bases loaded and Neshannock leading, 11-2, Aaralyn Nogay took one for the team while getting plunked in the back for a game-winning, walk-off hit-by-pitch. Nogay briefly fell to her knees, then popped up and jumped for joy to celebrate the Lancers’ second consecutive WPIAL title.
“I don’t even feel [the hit-by-pitch] anymore,” Aaralyn Nogay said with a laugh. “It feels crazy, like surreal. I didn’t even know we would get this far or accomplish what we’ve accomplished, but I’m so proud of every single one of our teammates.”
Now that Neshannock has made history by tying the winning streak, the Lancers can set their sights on their ultimate goal of winning back-to-back state titles. If they can pull it off, their winning streak would sit at an even 50 consecutive games at the end of the season.
And with a team this extraordinary, who in their right mind would dare bet against them?
“Believe it or not, it’s been a very hard year,” Lash said. “There was so much talk early on in the season [about the winning streak record]. … You just don’t escape it. I think now that we’re at that point, let’s just play. Four more games, man.”