Carmichaels surges past rival Chartiers-Houston to reach state softball finals

Monday, June 10, 2024 | 6:32 PM

WPIAL champion Chartiers-Houston was in total control of its PIAA Class A semifinal against rival Carmichaels.

Until it wasn’t.

The Mighty Mikes took advantage of an uncharacteristic defensive meltdown by the Buccaneers to tie the game and then got a walk-off double by sophomore Carys McConnell in the bottom of the seventh to win in thrilling fashion, 5-4, on Monday at Peterswood Park.

“I honestly thought they were going to walk me as soon as I got up,” McConnell said about her at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning with sophomore Bailey Barnyak at first and two out. “I thought it was going to slightly make it over (the fence).

Instead the 3-0 pitch McConnell lined to right carried over the right fielder’s head and was up against the fence as Barnyak easily scored the run that capped off a wild comeback and sent the Mighty Mikes to Penn State and the Class A state title game Thursday morning.

“I’ve been in some crazy games before, but not one that meant as much as this one meant,” Carmichaels coach Dave Briggs said. “That’s the one thing about this team: They never give up. They just play and don’t panic, and that’s the way we’ve been all year.”

This was the fourth meeting of the season between the Section 2-A co-champions. They split close games during the regular season and Chartiers-Houston edged Carmichaels in the WPIAL semifinals, 3-2.

The fact the game went down to the wire surprised nobody. However, how the game turned after 4½ innings was a stunner.

Chartiers-Houston was in total control until the bottom of the fifth inning.

The Buccaneers scored a run in the top of the first on an RBI single by freshman Taryne Drilak that plated sophomore Lauren Rush, then added another run in the third inning when junior Meadow Ferri singled home junior Ella Richey.

Chartiers-Houston extended its lead to 4-0 in the top of the fifth inning when Richey connected on a two-run homer to deep left-center field.

“I could tell we were getting down on ourselves a little bit,” Barnyak, the winning pitcher said. “We pulled the team together and said, ‘Hey, look at the score. It’s fine. We can work through this,’ and that’s what we did.”

Things went south quickly and painfully for the Bucs in the bottom of the fifth, and the Mighty Mikes were more than happy to take advantage.

Ferri walked freshman Avery Voithofer with one out before a sacrifice bunt by junior Duski Staggers moved Voithofer to second base with two outs.

Carmichaels’ No. 9 hitter, senior Alyana Simon, tried to bunt for a base hit; however, what looked like a sure out was dropped at first base, allowing Voithofer to score and the floodgates started to buckle.

Kaitlyn Waggett delivered the Mighty Mikes’ only hit of the inning with a single to put two on with Barnyak coming to the plate.

Her ground ball to shortstop was bobbled, allowing Simon to score, and when an overly aggressive Waggett also tried to score, an out turned into a run when her slide home knocked the ball from the catcher’s glove.

Following an intentional walk to McConnell, a ground ball to second base by Ali Jacobs was booted for the Bucs’ third error of the inning and the Mighty Mikes’ fourth run.

“We gave them all of those runs in the fifth inning,” Chartiers-Houston coach Tricia Alderson said. “Our defense broke down, and that was the game.”

It looked like Chartiers-Houston would regain the lead in the top of the seventh inning when Richey walked with one out and tried to score on a throwing error by the third baseman; however, Carmichaels right fielder Avery Voithofer, made a great backup play, hustling to the ball and throwing a strike home to Waggett, who made a nice sweep tag to get Richey at the plate.

“That was a big one,” Briggs said. “That was a big one for us.”

In the bottom of the inning, Ferri struck out the first two batters, but Barnyak worked a walk, setting up the heroic hit for McConnell to complete an unlikely comeback.

“I thought it was going to be an intentional, unintentional walk because the count was 3-0,” Briggs said of the game-winning hit. “They’ve walked her a ton this year. She looked at me, but I didn’t give her the take.”

Carmichaels improves to 19-2 after earning a four-game split against Chartiers-Houston and will take its game to Nittany Lions Softball Park on Friday for an 11 a.m. game against District 9 champion DuBois Central Catholic (22-2).

“We were right there last year and might have had a more talented team, but it’s hard,” Briggs said of winning a state championship. “You have to play hard and get a little bit of luck. We played DuBois (Central Catholic) in the first round last year and beat them (7-0), so we have seen them.”

Barnyak was on base three times and scored twice. The winning pitcher allowed four runs on seven hits while striking out only two.

Ritchey and Ferri had two hits each for Chartiers-Houston, which ends its district championship season at 20-3.

Ferri was the tough luck losing pitcher, allowing one earned run on only three hits while walking three and striking out 13 Mighty Mikes.

“She pitched phenomenal,” Alderson said. “She did not deserve to lose the game the way she pitched. But it is what it is.”

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