CALIFORNIA – Lindsey Osborne can’t explain it.
Neither can Erica Burns.
But once the playoffs started, something definitely happened to the Carmichaels softball team.
Good all season, the third-seeded Mikes have become great – no, make that downright dominant, outscoring three playoff opponents 34-0 after Wednesday’s 9-0 win over No. 2 Burgettstown in the WPIAL Class A semifinals at California University’s Lilley Field.
“I don’t know,” Osborne said when asked what changed. “Our team never gets down. Even if we’re not hitting, someone hits, then someone else hits, then someone else hits. It’s contagious.”
For this game, rally-starting duties fell to Osborne, whose grand slam down the left-field line in the bottom of the third inning turned this one into a rout.
Burns made sure it stood up by allowing two hits, striking out eight and walking none – though she did hit a batter. She needed just 78 pitches (53 strikes) to mow down a Burgettstown offense that, like Carmichaels, had scored 10 or more runs 12 times this season.
“They’re a good team,” Burgettstown coach Mark Deer said. “They showed it today. They showed up to play, and we didn’t. They outplayed us in every facet of the game.”
Carmichaels advanced to the WPIAL Class A championship game for the second consecutive year and will play Neshannock next Thursday. And though the Lancers are the top seed, it’s doubtful their coaches will have trouble preparing a list of things the Mikes do well.
Not with the way Carmichaels (21-2) has been playing this postseason.
“We just seem like we’re on a roll right now. We’re playing really, really well,” Carmichaels coach Dave Briggs said. “We’re playing now the way I thought we would play all year. Not that we played bad all year, but I knew we could play this way.”
Second baseman Caroline Cree singled to score Rachael Hathaway – Hathaway ran for designated player Emma Lowry, who had two hits – for the first run in the Mikes’ six-run third. Then, after Regina Menhart was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Osborne turned on a two-strike pitch.
“I’m happy for her,” Briggs said. “She’s been a four-year starter for me, a stud behind the plate. Her bat is starting to come alive right now.”
That gave Carmichaels a 5-0 lead, and the Mikes stretched it to 6-0 on a Burgettstown error – the Blue Devils made four in the game – that scored Mikes third baseman Amanda Brown, who doubled to left.
Burns singled in the fourth, advanced to third on a pair of errors and scored when the Blue Devils chose to throw out Cree trying to steal second. Lowry’s second hit of the game drove in Brown to make it 8-0 in the fifth, and shortstop Morgan Berardi (two hits) scored on a wild pitch in the sixth.
That was more than enough with the way Burns pounded the strike zone, allowing just three balls to leave the infield.
“We had a report on her,” Deer said. “We knew what she liked to throw, where she liked to throw it. You have to execute. You have to stay off the high pitch. You have to be ready for the changeup. She got us on it all day long.”
Carmichaels advanced to the PIAA playoffs for the first since 1999 last season and boasted an elite pitcher in Cameron Grimes. But Burns, still only a sophomore, has taken over, same for a few other younger starters.
Guess this whole thing just took some time.
“I think we started off the year as a newer team,” Burns said. “We were nervous. And I feel like as we’ve gone on, we’ve gotten better and better. Now we’re seeing what it’s like to come together as a playoff team.”
Burgettstown (16-5) will play Frazier in the consolation round next Tuesday. … Caley Ritts and Lizzie Strain had the Blue Devils’ two hits. … Brown had two doubles and scored a pair of runs.