Failure laid foundation for Allegany championship

May 27—COLLEGE PARK — There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who let failure define them, and those who use it to inspire greatness.

There was an expectation Allegany would repeat as state champion last year after an underclassmen-laden 2022 squad toppled Patterson Mill, a juggernaut led by two-time Gatorade state Player of the Year Madison Knight riding a 44-game winning streak, for the program's first title in 12 years.

First Morgantown stopped Allegany's string of 32 straight wins with a 7-1 stunner in LaVale.

Then Catoctin ended its dreams at a consecutive Class 1A crown with a 1-0 upset in the state quarterfinals, fueled by a record-setting 19-strikeout no-hitter by University of Virginia commit Taylor Smith.

An 18-2 season would rival the best in school history at many programs, but it wasn't good enough for Allegany.

It wanted to be perfect like it was in 2022 (18-0), and under the guidance of its four rising seniors, it realized it had to take its fitness and training to the next level.

The day after Allegany's defeat to Catoctin on May 19, 2022, the Campers were back in the weight room.

"Last year was heartbreaking, to lose 1-0," Allegany center-fielder Sky Porter said. "The next day everybody was in the gym and ready and preparing.

"It lit a fire. In my junior year everybody just expected to be there and expected to be great."

Porter is one of four seniors along with Allegany ace Abi Britton, catcher Riley Gallagher and first baseman Kylie Hook, a group that has played together since they were five years old.

The quartet's work ethic rubbed off on the underclassmen too, and there was one goal in mind.

"Offseason is where you work on everything," Hook said. "We worked our butts off. We did. We told each other after we lost that, next year we're winning a state championship. There's no other option for us."

The training regimen and discipline wasn't just an offseason phenomenon, it extended throughout the season and to practice too.

"They practice hard every day," Allegany head coach Dave Winner said. "They practiced after graduation, and that's the truth. We had practice at 4 o'clock after they graduated. I left it up to them. Back when I grew up, I'd have told the coach, 'Hey I'll see ya' Monday.'"

Winner also realized his own misstep in putting together Allegany's schedule two years ago, which only contained two games against high-caliber pitching (both against Morgantown).

The Campers were also unlucky in Keyser electing to not throw its ace that year.

"It was a wake-up call for me," Winner said.

Winner approached Athletic Director Tedd Eirich and asked him to toughen up their slate. Allegany added University and Meyersdale, had Morgantown twice again along with usual area standouts Keyser and Petersburg.

It wasn't a significant difference, but with Britton's domination in the circle, it's difficult for the Campers to find games — sometimes losing opponents midseason, which has happened each of the past three years.

The combination of player-driven offseason work and more challenging games to test those players created something special.

"We beefed up our schedule to be able to compete in these tougher games, and I think it helped us a lot," Britton said.

Allegany saw Keyser ace Rylee Mangold in its second game, a 3-1 win. Mackenzie Monahan provided the decisive hit, a two-run homer, and Britton struck out 20 of the 22 batters she faced.

Keyser ended up having its best season in school history, advancing to the state championship for the first time and falling in the Class AA title game for a 27-11 record.

Just one game later, Allegany went on the road and downed University, 4-0, as Britton clubbed a two-run bomb early and again went one over the minimum in the circle, fanning 16.

University (22-9) proved to be an even better opponent than the Campers imagined, advancing to the Class AAA state tournament for the first time in 30 years — and it brought home the championship for the first time ever.

Allegany's next game was at Morgantown, a team whose win the previous year accounted for the Campers' only regular-season loss since 2019.

Morgantown led the entire game with Madison Wisman spinning a gem in freezing temperatures under occasional snow fall, but Allegany found a way to score two runs on an error in the sixth to win 2-1.

Britton also took a line drive off her pitching arm late in that game and persevered.

The Mohigans — who canceled on the Campers in the return trip to LaVale late this season — were eliminated by University in the regional championship series and ended 20-9.

Allegany took care of Petersburg, 8-0, on the road on April 16. The Vikings (28-10) wound up falling a game short of winning the Class A state championship.

The Campers then outlasted Meyersdale and Frostburg State signee Izabella Donaldson, who made one mistake and lost 2-0 on a two-run homer by her future teammate Monahan.

Those games prepared Allegany mentally, and it came in handy in the state semifinals.

By virtue of a coin flip, Allegany had to get past Mardela, boasting a 24-0 record, just to get to the championship game — it was anything but easy.

Britton hit a first-inning homer in what would be Allegany's only offense. In the circle, the Penn State signee somehow found a way to get out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth with three straight Ks.

After ending that inning with a strikeout, the imposing pitcher and her catcher Gallagher let out a roar.

That moment was what they had trained for.

"We knew Mardela was going to be a tough game," said Gallagher, a UMBC signee. "We pulled through, and our hard work showed."

By the time the championship game rolled around on Saturday and a 22-1 Boonsboro team awaited, the hard part was already over.

Britton was Britton, every player in the line-up executed their roles to perfection and the Warriors were no match, falling 9-1. Mission accomplished, a 22-0 season.

This Allegany team's legacy isn't just that it has a once-in-a-generation pitcher — it certainly does have that.

When the banner goes on the wall at the Allegany High gymnasium, it'll have a noticeable gap between the 2022 and 2024 championships.

The missing year tells the story of Allegany's greatness.

"They had the mentality this year that they're not losing, and they didn't," Winner said.

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.