Yet after a Sideling Hill League title, a District 5 championship and a few water cooler showers, the Tigers are making the unbelievable a reality: They are headed to the PIAA Class A championship game after defeating Chartiers-Houston 7-2 in a semifinal Monday afternoon at Saint Francis University.
Fannett-Metal (23-4), which has never made it to a state final in any sport, will play Southern Columbia (23-3) on Friday at Penn State's Nittany Lion Softball Park at 10 a.m.
"I knew we had some good ballplayers back and with as many young ones as we had, I was just hoping it would be a good learning year," said Miller, who was still drying off after being doused with ice water after the Tigers won Monday. "It's remarkable. You can't ask for anything more."
Although a young team, the Tigers have experience in the right places, starting in the pitcher's circle.
Blaire Lauthers and Jenna Rhodes teamed up throughout the season to baffle opposing pitchers. Lauthers got the start Monday, one game removed from a 15-strikeout performance in Friday's quarterfinal, and threw another gem.
Facing a deep Bucs lineup, Lauthers found herself in several precarious positions but always managed to pitch her way out of them.
Four times Chartiers-Houston had one out with a runner on third base - in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings - and four times Lauthers left the circle while stranding the runner, twice on strikeouts and twice on flies to Rhodes at shortstop.
"I had to work harder and had to make sure I hit (catcher) Naomi Fields' glove," said Lauthers, who used lots of high and outside pitches to neutralize the Bucs hitters. "I had to keep it in the zone and keep it away from the batters.
Miller said, "I try to use my head while calling pitches when we get in that situation. She can always mess up and miss - that's part of the game and that's why we play the game. But when she knows we need something, she usually puts it where I want it. So far it's worked out. That can always change. But so far she's been remarkable."
Chartiers-Houston pitcher Kayla Briggs started to unravel in the third inning, which she started by hitting Melinda Hammond on the left hand with her first pitch.
Amanda Laye followed and showed bunt the whole way, but Briggs couldn't throw strikes and walked Laye and followed that by walking Megan Dougherty to load the bases.
After getting Candice Cornell to fly out in foul territory, Briggs walked Lauthers to bring in the first run of the game.
With the heart of the order still to come, bases loaded and one out, the Tigers couldn't put another run on the board. Rhodes hit into a fielder's choice and Morgan Burdge grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.
The squandered runs seemed damning in the fifth inning when the Bucs went ahead 2-1, the same score as the Tigers' first two state playoff games, except they were on the winning side.
"I saw that score and all I could think was that was the scores of our last two games," Rhodes said.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers had a chance to redeem themselves.
Dougherty hit a double, Cornell walked and Lauthers singled to load the bases for Rhodes with no outs.
"I was really nervous the first time. I don't know why; I don't normally get nervous," Rhodes said. "But the second time I knew I needed to do something."
And she did, hitting a sacrifice fly to center to bring in Dougherty and tie the game.
Two batters later, Fields, the batting hero of the quarterfinal game, slugged a double down the leftfield line to bring in two runs. Melissa Zeger followed with a double to bring in Casey O'Donnell, Fields' courtesy runner, to give the Tigers a 5-2 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, Lauthers put the game out of reach with a two-run homer, a 215-foot shot over the centerfield fence.
"I thought the rightfielder was going to catch it," Lauthers said. "But then everyone started cheering, so I said, 'Phew. OK. Got lucky there.'"
The furthest the Tigers had been in the PIAA playoffs prior to this season was the state semifinals in 2005.
Miller said the group couldn't have been better this season, with the young players eager to learn and the experienced players showing patience through the bumps.
And by playing in the biggest game possible - a PIAA final - Miller couldn't imagine a better end to the year.
"For the younger ones it's going to be overwhelming right at the beginning. But you couldn't want any more for a kid than to play in that environment," he said.
"For the coaches, we can't do anything. What can you say? That's a dream that you only get maybe once in your lifetime. And we're going to get her this time."
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Briggs p 3 0 1 1 Dougherty cf 3 1 1 0
McLaughlin lf 4 0 0 0 Cornell rf 2 1 0 0
Miller c 4 0 1 0 Lauthers p 3 2 2 2
Tucker ss 3 1 1 0 Rhodes ss 2 0 0 1
Hall 1b 3 0 1 0 Burdge 2b 3 1 0 0
Sutton 3b 2 0 0 0Fields c 3 0 2 2
DeFresne cf 2 0 1 0 O'Donnell cr 0 1 0 0
Kesneck rf 3 0 0 1 Zeger 1b 3 0 1 1
Kraushaar 2b 3 1 0 0 Hammond dp 2 1 0 0
Laye 3b 2 0 0 0
Totals 26 2 5 2 Totals 23 7 6 6
Chartiers-Houston 000 011 0 - 2
Fannett-Metal 001 042 x - 7
E-CH 1; FM 3. LOB-CH 7; FM 6. 2B-Briggs; Dogherty, Fields, Zeger. HR-Lauthers (4). SAC-DuFresne. SF-Rhodes. SB-Miller, Briggs.
ip h r er bb so
Briggs (L) 6 6 7 7 6 5
Lauthers (W,13-3) 7 5 2 1 8 2
HBP-by Briggs (Hammond). WP-Briggs; Lauthers.