Union defeats Leechburg to reach 1st WPIAL softball final

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 | 6:58 PM

The shallow fly ball seemed to hang in the air for an eternity.

With a trip to the WPIAL Class A championship game on the line, No. 3 Union (12-5) coaches in the dugout begged for it to stay airborne long enough for someone — anyone — to get a glove on it between center field and second base.

It took all of 4 seconds for center fielder Marleah D’Augostine to run underneath, make the catch and continue to the mound without breaking a stride. The Scotties wasted no time celebrating their first trip to the WPIAL title game after winning 5-3 over No. 2 Leechburg (16-2), which lost in the semifinals for the third consecutive season.

“This is more than exciting for me, for them, for all of us,” Union coach Doug Fisher said. “This is school history. We’ve never been able to make it this far. Having this young team of six sophomores, a junior, a senior and the rest are freshman, it’s fantastic.”

Union was led by Halaena Blakley’s pitching and Julia Williams’ clutch hitting. Williams drove in three runs.

“I just got in there with confidence today, and I tried to put it in play,” Williams said. “I focused on just swinging in the strike zone and not chasing any pitches.”

Blakley got into in jams the first two innings.

Leechburg capitalized in the first inning when Kristen Knapp scored on a fielding error. Blakley walked the bases loaded with two outs in the second inning, and Fisher called a for a mound visit.

“I was just trying to calm her down, because I knew she had it,” Fisher said. “She was just getting a little rattled, and she came back throwing like a champion.”

Blakley’s next eight pitches to Leechburg’s McKenna Pierce, who hit a triple and scored in the seventh inning, were strikes. Pierce fouled off seven consecutive pitches before a pitch high in the strike zone was called for the out, the first of eight straight batters Blakley retired, five of them by strikeout.

“It doesn’t happen too often that I walk a lot of batters, but when it does, I just think about my team and wanting to help get the win for them,” Blakley said. “I was just trying to put it wherever our catcher Shae-Lynn Quinn and coach Doug Fisher called it. I knew they were chasing some stuff, so I had to get it just in the strike zone.”

Blakley pitched a complete game and struck out nine.

Leechburg attempted a late comeback and scored on a Gracie Reinke groundout that drove in Kiera Jones in the sixth inning and Emma Ritchie groundout that scored Pierce.

“I’m very proud of this team and the way they continued to play hard,” Leechburg coach Debbi Young said. “You look at this game, and there weren’t really many errors. The game was based on the little bleeders that got through for (Union). There were two hard hits, but the rest were little bleeders.”

Union scored two insurance runs in the seventh inning.

A costly third-inning error also gave Union a run. Blakley scored when Leechburg tried to catch her off guard at third base, but the ball sailed wide of third baseman Tatum Verner. The Scotties scored earlier in the third inning when Williams drove in Trott.

“Julia did a fantastic job hitting, and her defense was outstanding,” Fisher said. “Her difficult outs in the field and her timely hits, just fantastic.”

The key factor in the game, Fisher and Jones said, was the Scotties’ ability to hit with runners in scoring position and the Blue Devils leaving eight runners on base.

“I thought Emma Richie pitched a very good game, only two walks and they got a few hits when they needed it,” Young said. “We didn’t get those hits, which is unusual for us. We usually hit top to bottom, but we couldn’t capitalize and it happens.”

Blakley also credited her fielders with securing the win with plays such as Quinn diving for foul-ball outs.

“Whenever I’m pitching, and they get a hit, obviously I’m upset about it,” Blakely said. “I know I have an amazing defense behind me to pick me up and making amazing plays.”

Union will play No. 1 West Greene in the WPIAL Class A championship game on a date to be determined at Peterswood Park. Leechburg will play Jefferson-Morgan in the consolation game for the opportunity to play in the PIAA tournament.

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