By Lisa Byers
Union City is used to being right in the mix of things when it comes to competing for a region championship in softball.
But for the early part of the season the Lady Bears have struggled to find their niche and as a result, entered Tuesday’s Region 3 contest with Cochranton in the midst of a six-game losing streak and dead last in the region standings.
The Bears are already mathematically eliminated from winning the Region 3 championship, but inched to within just a half-game of Cochranton for a possible District 10 Class A playoff spot with a 2-0 win over the Cardinals yesterday.
It is Union City’s first and only win since its 5-2 season-opening victory over Jamestown back on April 4.
“Huge win,” said Union City first-year coach Frank Snyder. “We needed that to get back on track. Six in a row … We definitely need to get back on the right track. We had a couple of big hits there; still only got two runs. But we played a fine defensive game.
“Finally, everything came together.”
The Bears have been knocking on the door the last few outings. On April 17, Union City suffered a 6-4 loss to Cambridge Springs then fell to second-place Maplewood, 4-2, and Cochranton, 3-2. In those three games, the Bears had a total of six fielding errors.
Against Cochranton yesterday, the Bears committed just one error behind pitcher Noelle Wienczkowski. Cochranton, meanwhile, had three errors on the afternoon leading to two unearned runs.
“We can’t buy a break,” Cochranton coach Mark McGuire said. “We can’t. We can’t get a hit. We can’t buy a break. We can’t get lucky. Everything just goes wrong and (Union City is) a good team. You can’t do that against a team like that.
“You need to make some luck sometimes and we aren’t doing that at all.”
Of course, to Union City’s credit, it was hard for the Cardinals’ offense to get much of anything going against Wienczkowski and the Bears’ defense.
Wienczkowski entered the game at 1-6 and sporting a 3.72 earned run average with 20 walks and 21 strikeouts. Against the Cardinals, she allowed just two infield hits and a single to right-center by Natalie Brock.
She faced just three batters over the minimum. Cochranton did not have a base runner advance past second base.
Defensively, the Bears got tremendous play out of their outfield, particulary senior Stacey Boyce, who made the final outs of the fifth and sixth innings on balls that looked as though they might sail over the fence.
“We’ve been working on sprinting and turning back,” Boyce said. “Making sure we are sprinting first and then jumping to try to reach the ball.”
Union City’s outfield accounted for eight of the team’s 21 putouts.
Catcher Carly Williams also threw out a runner trying to steal for the final out of the fourth inning.
“Finally everyone worked together,” Snyder said. “Defense won it for us.”
Union City got the only runs it would need behind that defense in the second inning.
Autumn Kinney got it started with a single and advanced to third on a throwing error on the play. She scored on a single by Carrie Brown. Another error allowed Tori Migliaccio to reach and Brown to advance to third.
Boyce drove home Brown with a sacrifice fly.
Union City got just four hits of its own against Brock, who suffered the loss despite pitching an equally solid game. Brock did not walk a batter and struck out two.
“We’re getting more than quality pitching,” McGuire said. “The defense is average. We just can’t buy a hit plain and simple.”
With the loss, the Cardinals, expected to be a Region 3 contender, fell to 4-4 overall and 2-4 in the region with just two region contests remaining. They, too, have been mathematically eliminated from winning the Region 3 title.
Union City is now 2-6 overall and 1-4 in the region.