Union holds off Leechburg rally to earn berth to PIAA Class A softball playoffs
Tuesday, May 29, 2018 | 5:33 PM
Three innings into the WPIAL Class A consolation softball game, the outcome appeared a foregone conclusion.
Then, fitting for a game that would determine a PIAA playoff berth, the drama ratcheted up: a furious Leechburg rally that put the tying run on base against Union pitcher Sarah Seamans in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Union bent but didn't break. The No. 4 Scotties snuffed out Leechburg's momentum, holding on for an 8-7 win over the Blue Devils on Tuesday afternoon at Hampton Community Park to qualify for the state tournament for the first time.
“It was a little crazy,” Seamans said. “We just needed to calm down, just gather ourselves. I knew we'd come out of it. We just had to work together.”
No. 3 Leechburg rallied from an 8-0 deficit after the third inning but couldn't complete the comeback to fall in the consolation game for the second consecutive season.
The Blue Devils (13-6) scored one run in the fourth and three apiece in the fifth and sixth to cut their deficit to one run.
Morgan Pierce led off the seventh inning with a single before Seamans retired the next three hitters on a popup and a pair of strikeouts.
“It was a nice rally,” Leechburg coach Debbie Young said. “I hoped it would have gone the other way, but it didn't. I'm glad they came back. I would have gone home very upset (with an 8-0 loss).”
Union (17-3), which lost in the WPIAL semifinals to top-seeded West Greene, now will play the District 9 champion in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Monday at a site and time to be determined.
Seamans went 3 for 5 with a triple and two RBIs and struck out 14 batters, and Shae-Lynn Quinn drove in three runs for the Scotties, who have six seniors.
“They're mentally tough girls,” Union coach Anthony Conforti said. “I drill them hard in practice, and I expect them to win games like this. It's a great win, 8-7. They could have folded also, and they didn't. They're good girls, a good softball team.”
Although Union represented the new blood in the consolation game, it didn't look that way early in Tuesday's game. The Scotties took advantage of walks and Leechburg miscues to take an 8-0 lead through the third inning.
Quinn drove in Seamans with a single in the first, and Seamans added a two-run single after two Leechburg errors in the second. Then came the big blow: a five-run third where Union had just one hit — Quinn's two-run single — but pounced on three walks, a hit batter and two errors.
“That's what we do,” Conforti said. “If we have to play small ball, we'll play small ball. If we have to try to get base hits, we'll hit. But small ball's part of this game. We see it in colleges. Our girls played well. I'm very proud of them right now.”
The game began to turn in the fourth when Leechburg's McKenna Pierce lined a one-out single to left that bounced past Gianna Trott and made it to the fence. Pierce came all the way around to score on the error.
Olivia Shimer drove in a run with a single, Morgan Pierce added a sacrifice fly and a third run scored on an error to make it 8-4 in the fifth, and Leechburg made it a one-run game in the sixth on Kristen Knapp's RBI single, Aubry Skeel's run-scoring groundout and Hannah Berry's sacrifice fly.
“We sometimes have a hard time getting started,” Young said. “Usually it's just the first inning, but … it took us a little longer. I don't know if I blame it on the heat, or the long weekend, having so many days off between games.”
Along with its WPIAL runner-up baseball team, Union will send its softball team to the state tournament.
“It's really special, especially since I'm a senior and everything and it's my last time,” Seamans said. “It's great.”
Morgan Pierce allowed eight runs — two earned — on nine hits for Leechburg, striking out 11. The Blue Devils were seeking their first state playoff berth since 2009.
“I was pleased with the season,” Young said. “I'm happy with the section (title) and with how far we went in the playoffs. We keep chipping away at that and just want to get that one more step. We didn't get that part, but at least we got to this point. I'm very proud of them, and I hope they're proud of themselves.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.
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