When Carisa Swartz played her first scholastic softball game, Warrior Run lost 13-4. That really was not news.
Warrior Run lost a lot back then. The Defenders were in the midst of enduring eight straight losing seasons.
Today, Swartz plays her final scholastic game. She plays it at Penn State's Nittany Lion Softball Park. She plays it in the Class AA state championship.
Swartz is the team's lone starting senior and she has experienced a remarkable turnaround first-hand. She was there for the last of the bad times and has experienced the good times that have produced 55 wins the last three seasons. Today, she experiences the best time as Warrior Run faces Neshannock for the state title. She is now a member of the greatest Warrior Run softball team ever and is possibly seven innings from being part of the state's best Class AA team.
"It means so much I can't even put it into words. It means more than anything right now," Swartz said. "We've never done this good ever and we've been working really hard."
"She was a part of this team when it wasn't real good and it's tough to take," Warrior Run coach Garth Watson said. "I'm super proud of her."
He is proud of his entire team. Warrior Run (24-2) had virtually no history prior to 2012 but this team has repeatedly made it, capturing the program's first league and district championships while winning its first three state playoff games.
The Defenders are coming off an impressive 14-1, five-inning win over perennial power Nanticoke in the Eastern Region final. They hope their best game is yet to come.
"You won't find another team that will work any harder. They really do," Watson said. "They're a close bunch, all 15 of them and that's huge. Our coaching staff did a great job of preparation coming into (Monday's) game and we have to carry that over to (today). We have to play Warrior Run softball and string hits together and play solid defense."
Warrior Run has been playing at an incredibly high level, outscoring three state opponents, 30-6. Included in that run was a one-run win over District 1 champion Christopher Dock, a team with eight starters back from last year's state semifinalist. Warrior Run also blanked Mifflinburg, the only team that has beaten it, 2-0, in the district final.
Pitcher Taylor Parker has thrown consecutive one-hitters, the defense has played consecutive error-less games and the offense is hitting as well as it has all season. Every starter had a hit or scored a run in Monday's rout over 23-win Nanticoke and they scored 14 runs for a second time in states.
"If we hit like that and play defense like that, that state championship is ours," second baseman Laura Bastian said.
Neshannock (23-1) features strong pitching and defense, too, along with an offense that might be the quickest Warrior Run has seen. The Lancers (23-1) have six speedy left-handed hitters and all bunt and slap-hit well. They put lots of pressure on defenses and that has led to many postseason opponents making costly errors.
Neshannock delivered 15 hits in Monday's 15-5 Western Region final win over Martinsburg Central and six were bunt singles. Nine of 10 bunters reached base.
Not that the Lancers are all about bunting. Leadoff hitter Rayanna Furst hit a two-run, eighth-inning double as Neshannock downed defending state champion Philipsburg-Osceola, 5-3. Her sister, pitcher Amanda Furst, has hit a team-high four home runs and Katelyn Burrelli had a two-run triple against Central.
Neshannock lost its first game in the District 7 semifinals, 2-0, to eventual champion Deer Lakes but came back to clinch its first state berth since 2006, edging Riverside, 3-2, in the consolation game. It also has just one senior.
The Lancers trailed undefeated Fairview 3-0 in the quarterfinals but came back to score two runs in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and win, 4-3. Rayanna Furst hit a game-tying, two-strike double before freshman Madison Shaffer hit a walk-off single.
Furst has pitched well this season. She relies on her stellar defense to make plays. She pitched a six-hitter against P-O's powerful offense while striking out two and threw a seven-hitter against Fairview. She did not allow a hit over the final four innings in that game.
Like Warrior Run, Neshannock had never won a state playoff game before this season. Like the Defenders, it has not cared about its past and is only focused on writing its own story.
"I guess you always hope to be here. We told the girls we came so close a couple of times last year of really getting over the top with some young girls," Watson said. "We set little goals to make playoffs, to get in the district final game and knew we had to win it and start picking some teams off and stay focused."
Start spreading the news. Warrior Run is a state power. Start spreading the news, the Defenders are on the verge of something few outside its their dugout ever thought possible.