BERWICK — Mission accomplished.
The St. Marys Junior League All-Star softball team completed a perfect run to the Pennsylvania State championship with a 5-3 victory against Fairchance Sunday on a steamy afternoon at Ber-Vaughn Park in Berwick.
The finals matchup proved to be the second close encounter between the two teams at states, with St. Marys using a four-run sixth inning Friday to seal its 6-1 victory in the winners’ bracket finals.
This time around St. Marys used a strong start — jumping out to a 4-1 lead after the top of the second before a couple uncharacteristic mistakes in the field and on the bases allowed Fairchance to get back into the game at 4-2 after three innings.
St. Marys starter Kendall Young and her defense closed the door on Fairchance from there though, as the Section 2 champs managed just one runner — a two-out single by DJ Thomas in the bottom of the fourth — over the final four innings.
Young punctuated her team’s victory with a solo home run to left in the top of the seventh before retiring the side in order in the bottom half to send St. Marys to the East Region Tournament.
Young was 2-for-3 with a double, homer, two RBIs and two runs scored. She went the distance in the circle, allowing three runs (one earned) and just four hits. She struck out one and walked none.
The state title is just the second for the St. Marys Little League Softball program, with the first won by its Senior League All-Stars back in 2013. The state title also is vindication for more than half the team who were members of the 2015 Minor League All-Star squad that reached the state finals as the undefeated team before losing twice to Morrisville.
Six current players (13-year-olds) — Young, Olivia Eckels, Caitlyn Vollmer, Lindsey Reiter, Emma Sorg and Tessa Fledderman — experienced that heartache three years ago. All but Fledderman also were on the Little League All-Star team that placed third at states in St. Marys last summer.
That wait of knowing what it feels like to be state champs is now over, with the opportunity to play at the East Regional Tournament in Connecticut on the horizon later this week. Before that preparation though, the team was welcomed home Sunday evening with a parade into St. Marys and ceremony at Benzinger Park.
St. Marys will enter East Region play with a perfect 9-0 record, with four of those wins coming at states.
“That was a great win against a really good team,” said St. Marys manager Bob Young. “They (Fairchance) came out to play today, and they never gave up. I knew it was going to come down to the end, and it did.
“In a way, I think it helped us to lose the coin toss. We came out and put up some runs early runs, and I think it calmed everyone down a little. We still made some mistakes that we don’t typically make, and I don’t know if was nerves of what. But, things happen.
“But, what I was really proud of was the girls came off the field and weren’t down, and if someone was down a little bit, the other girls really pulled them together. We got together in the fourth inning and said hey, ‘It’s got to stop.’ Morgan (Wolf) dropped that one, but then she made two awesome catches after that, and that’s what it’s all about.
“Everyone makes mistakes, but they all pulled together and we came out victorious at the end.”
And with that, this group of Junior Leaguers cemented their place alongside the 2013 Seniors being state champs.
“We’ve been working hard for this for this for three of four years now, and we’ve come so close to many times,” said Young. “To do it this year was really special. This group of girls is just awesome, and they have gelled so much. This whole week was so much fun.
“I remember when they (2013 Seniors) won, and we (current players) were lined up as they came into Benzinger Park. I remember thinking how awesome that was, and never in my wildest dreams did I think how ever many years later here we’d be doing the same thing.
“What’s cool is Joe Renwick, the head coach from that team, and his daughter Jolene who played, made the trip down today. It was pretty special for them to be here to witness this. I’m just super proud of St. Marys and everything we’ve been doing here. It really does show that hard work pays off.”
St. Marys wasted little time grabbing the lead against Fairchance starter Lily Wilson Sunday.
Morgan Wolf led off the game with a single to center, while Eckels followed with an infield single. Young was then hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
Vollmer scored Wolf with a groundout before Joey Forster singled to left to plate Eckels. Fairchance’s coaches promptly pulled Wilson and went to Shayla Reynolds — who also pitched in relief in Friday’s matchup.
Janelle Krug greeted Reynolds with a single to center that chased home Young to make it 3-0 before reynolds recorded a pair of striekouts top end the inning.
Fairchance got one of those runs right back in the bottom of the inning as Reynolds blasted a leadoff triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Rylea Hlatky.
St. marys countered with a run in the top of the inning, although the inning could have been bigger.
Sorg led off with an infield single and hustled to third on a double to right by Wolf. Fairchance then cut down Sorg at home on a grounder hit by Eckels, and turned into a double play when they caught Wolf too far off as she rounded third.
However, Young followed with a double to plate Eckels to put St. Marys up 4-1.
Fairchance its deficit to one with a run in both the second and third innings.
Wilson led off the bottom of the second with a double to deep center and scored when a two-out fly ball to center was dropped.
A St. Marys error also led to the run the third.
Hlatky reached on a one-out bunt single, then stole second. Hlatky later pulled off a double-steal with Payton Vitikacs (who reached on an error) and race home when the throw to third went into left field to make it 4-3 game.
St. Marys slammed the door shut from there though, as Young retired 14 of the final 15 batters she faced in the game. her defense also came up big during that stretch.
Right fielder Lauren Mosier threw out Kyleigh Polish-Angelo at first on a ball hit to her to lead off the fourth, as first baseman Reiter made a nice stretch on the play.
Wolf made an overhead, leaping catch in shallow center to end the sixth, while third baseman Krug also made a nice catch in foul territory near the Fairchance dugout for the second out in the seventh.
Reynolds did her part to keep Fairchance in the game as she kept St. Marys off the scoreboard despite the Section 1 champs having a runner on base every inning in the game.
However, Young’s leadoff blast over the fence in left in the seventh gave her team a little extra breathing room heading into Fairchance’s final at-bat.
“That was awesome to see,” said Young. “She works so hard, and lot of times I don’t give her the credit she deserves being her dad. Sometimes, my expectations are little more for her. But, for her to come through in that way was clutch because I felt like we just needed one more run.”
The East Region Tournament begins Friday in Orange, Conn.