Union softball team rallies again to make PIAA finals

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Monday, June 12, 2023 | 9:47 PM


The Union softball team is working very hard at earning the nickname the Cardiac Kids.

For the fourth game in a row, the Scotties fell behind, then rallied not once but twice in the PIAA Class A semifinals to beat District 6 champion Claysburg-Kimmel, 10-8, in a wild battle of district champions Monday at Norwin.

“I almost had three cardiac arrests out there,” Union coach Doug Fisher said. “All throughout the whole playoffs, I think we’ve been down, we fight our way back and we never doubt each other. If we have a chance at the plate, there’s no doubt.”

The Scotties trailed by three runs early and then scored four runs in the fifth inning to take the lead.

After Claysburg-Kimmel reclaimed the lead 8-5 with four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Union answered with five runs in the top of the seventh to take the lead for good.

“Every game in the playoffs so far,” Union’s lone senior starter and team captain Ella Casalandra said. “Our team is close and can rely on each other. It is amazing.”

Scotties sophomore pitcher Mia Preuhs feels the team feeds off everybody’s energy to help them feel there is always a chance.

“We never give up,” she said. “No matter the score, we keep the energy in the dugout and lift each other up. We knew it was all or nothing, and we want to keep going all the way. We want to keep making history.”

Playing in their first PIAA semifinals game, Union trailed 2-0 after one inning when the first four Bulldogs reached on a walk, hit batter and two singles. McKenzie Black and Jaylee Swindell delivered the RBIs for Claysburg-Kimmel.

The Bulldogs added to their lead with single runs in the third and fifth innings without a hit, thanks to three of six total walks by Preuhs.

“I feel like I could have had a better performance on the mound,” Preuhs said after giving up seven earned runs on six hits with seven strikeouts. “My pitching was good enough to get us the win, but it was definitely not my best game. I feel like I did very well at the plate and got great hits and scored for the team.”

Both of the Scotties rallies were aided by Preuhs singles. After a single that led to Union’s first run in the fourth inning, Preuhs had an RBI single in the four-run fifth inning.

Then, with one out and nobody on in the top of the seventh inning, Preuhs delivered the spark as she singled for her third hit. She scored from first base on a single to center field by Olivia Benedict.

“I did feel a little bit of pressure in the seventh inning,” Preuhs said. “But I knew my team was behind me as I had a lot of support throughout the game.”

The line between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is razor thin, as participants and spectators were reminded three batters later.

Following a flyout and another single by Mallory Gorgacz, junior catcher Bella Cameron hit a high fly ball to left field. Once it came down, it was dropped, allowing two runs to come in and make the score 8-8.

“I was thinking in my head the whole time, ‘wow, that’s high,’ ” Fisher said. “She might have had too much time to think about it.”

Casalandra was on deck and shared her perspective on the game-changing play.

“When she hit the ball in the air, I thought she was out,” she said. “When I saw it drop, I was like, ‘crap, it’s my turn now, I have to go.’ I had a slow start to the game (offensively), so I was a little nervous about that.”

Casalandra delivered an RBI single for the go-ahead run and later scored an insurance run via an Olivia Williams single and another fielding error by the Bulldogs.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Preuhs allowed a two-out single but struck out Jenna Helsel to end the game.

“You can’t say enough about (Preuhs),” Fisher said. “She’s stone cold. We’re down, she’s struggling a little bit, getting a little fatigued and she energizes her batteries and goes out and takes over.”

The freshman Swindell had two hits, including a solo home run for Claysburg-Kimmel (22-4), which ends its season for the second straight year in the PIAA semifinals. The loss snapped the Bulldogs’ 15-game winning streak.

Preuhs led the way with three of the Scotties’ 14 hits. Teammates Ross, Benedict, Gorgacz and Cameron had two hits each.

Union (20-3) will try to follow in the Scotties girls basketball team’s footsteps by winning PIAA gold when they play their first PIAA softball championship game at 11 a.m. Friday at Penn State against the winner of Tuesday’s game between Tri Valley and Glendale.

Don’t look for any Union coaches in the stands scouting Tuesday at Central Mountain.

“I try not to look at anybody because then you get all of this information, and you end up overcoaching,” Fisher said. “We just play our game.”

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