STATE COLLEGE - In the end, pitching ruled the day. And if there's one thing Mifflin County has a surplus of, it's pitching. Lots and lots of it.
Madison Ream and Chloe Fitzgerald combined to throw a no-hitter Thursday night, the second in a row for Mifflin County, to lead the locals to a 4-1 win over Mount Union in the Section 4 Little League Softball 9- and 10-year-old championship game at API Field in State College.
That propels Mifflin County into the state tournament, which starts Wednesday in Thorndale, just west of Downingtown in Chester County.
Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER?SHANNON
Mifflin County’s Chloe Fitzgerald, center, awaits the throw as Mount Union’s Kerrigon Woodward, right, steals third base during Mifflin County's Little League softball Section 4 9- and 10-year-old championship Thursday in State College
"This is a great group of girls. Throughout this year, I've got it counted up, I've coached 44 girls on three different teams. This is the best group of kids. They're all smart. They listen to what you're trying to tell them. They do exactly what you tell them," Mifflin County manager Jason Treaster said.
"The improvement that we've seen in these girls from when we first started practice as an all-star team is super. You just can't imagine how some of these girls have improved over the last several weeks."
Neither team could muster much contact at the plate - Mifflin County had just two hits of its own - so pitching was pivotal. Ream and Fitzgerald combined for 12 strikeouts and two walks. Mount Union starter Amara Bookheimer only allowed two hits, but she walked 10 and struck out six.
"You get Madison in there throwing hard (it's tough). Chloe doesn't do bad herself. Chloe has a nice changeup that Madison doesn't have," Treaster said. "You bring Chloe in once they're used to Madison and, with the changeup, you have them off balance."
Mifflin County lost a pregame coin flip to see which team would be home. But that's all it lost. It immediately put two runs on the board, which was huge, Treaster said.
"Playing with a lead is big. It's really nice to get those first couple runs in. You've got more options when you have the lead," he said. "You can get players in and out, playing time for players on the bench. It's a lot easier to play than playing from behind."
Alyssa Souders reached on a bunt single and Fitzgerald followed with a walk. After an out, Bailee Zendt was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Jaylyn Moore coaxed a walk to force in the first run. Fitzgerald stole home for the second.
Mifflin County came right back with another two-spot in the third. With one out, Tori Nichols tripled. She scored on a wild pitch. One out later, Taylor Ciccolini was hit by a pitch, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on another wild pitch.
Mount Union chipped away at the lead with a run in the bottom of the fourth. Haley Boden reached on an error, advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third and then stole home.
That, however, was it for the Trojans.
Fitzgerald came on in relief of Ream and set Mount Union down in order in the fifth. She allowed a one-out walk in the sixth, but struck out the final two batters to secure the championship.
The team has less than a week before it heads down the turnpike to the state championship tournament. Treaster said it will spend Wednesday through Friday in pool play, along with seven other teams. The top two teams in each pool advance to single-elimination semifinals on the weekend.
The coach likes his chances in that condensed format considering how many pitchers he has at his disposal.
"You need more than just one or two good pitchers to go there and succeed," Treaster said. "I feel really good about what we have going down there."