By BILL RUDICK
WEST GROVE — Call it the Clinch Curse. Call it Downingtown West closing out the regular season on a high note.
Call it whatever you wish, but when Emily Williams singled home pinch runner Taylor Patras in the top half of the ninth inning, the Whippets (10-10) had knocked off Avon Grove (15-4), 3-2 in a Ches-Mont League National Division softball contest Tuesday.
"We finally got everyone back and healthy and playing,' said Downingtown West coach Joey Germani. "And (pitcher) Amanda Seckinger is back in her top gear. This was a nice win for us. Avon Grove is one of the top teams in all of District 1.'
The Red Devils clinched the National on Monday by beating West Chester Henderson. The result marked the third straight season the National champ was upset the day after it clinched. Avon Grove and Henderson actually finished in a tie, but the title heads to Southern Chester County by virtue of the Red Devils' season sweep.
Tied at 2-2, Katie Steffan led off the ninth with a drive to deep center off Avon Grove pitcher Maggie Balint. She was headed for third when the ball slipped under the fence and was called a ground-rule double.
"The ball was middle-in, and I knew I made good contact,' said Steffen. "It felt good coming off the bat. I was just happy to get on and get us a runner in scoring position.'
Haley Fagan sacrificed pinch runner Taylor Patras to third, setting up Williams' heroics to prove that all game-winning hits are not bombs. Williams simply put the bat on the ball and lofted a little blooper over first baseman Morgan VanSciver and into short right field for the RBI.
"I was honestly just hoping it wouldn't wind up being a pop out,' said Williams. "Then I saw it fall in and roll away a little and then I was just excited we were going to get a run in.'
Seckinger then put the Red Devils away in the ninth for the complete-game victory. She allowed two runs on eight hits, striking out seven and waking two -- both in the first inning.
"I feel like myself again, finally,' said Seckinger, who missed most of the first half of the season with an injury. ' And the team really came through to help me out in this game, both with the bats and with the defense. It just feels really good to beat a team like Avon Grove. They've beaten us the last three times we played them, so getting this win was great.'
The Red Devils got on the board by plating a pair of runs in the first. Logan Needham (1-for 3) drew a lead-off walk and promptly swiped second. She trotted in when Balint stroked a one-out double to left center. Balint scored one batter later on a single from Courtney Gall.
West answered back with runs in the third on an Annie Hays (2 for 4, 1 R, RBI) triple and an RBI ground out from Seckinger, and again in the fifth on a walk to Alicia Wagner and an RBI single from Hays.
"I think we got outhustled early, but we battled back strong,' said Germani. "We just finally started getting around on (Balint). She pitched seven tough innings yesterday (Monday), and then all nine today. She's a great pitcher — no question — but that's a lot of innings in two days.'
Avon Grove threatened to take the lead in the sixth when Gall ripped a triple to right, but she was erased at home on a 5-3-2 double play.
At 10-10, the Whippets are a longshot for a playoff slot, but stranger things have happened. If they do get in, they are playing well enough down the stretch to be a tough out.
"I've seen Truman get in with a 9-10 record, so you never know,' said Germani. "But I do think we're more than ready to play if we get the call.
Balint finished the day going the distance, allowing three runs on five hits, striking out 15 with two walks.
"There are quite a few teams that finished strong after a slow start in this league, and West is definitely one of them,' said Avon Grove coach Julie Hatfield. "They are a well-coached team with talent. But we played to the other's team's way of playing. We just have to stay focused and keep the energy high. It's important that we come out every game and play with that AG mentality and play our game.'
Downingtown West 3, Avon Grove 2, 9 inningsDWEST ab r h bi AGROVE ab r h biHays cf 4 1 2 1 Needham ss 3 1 1 0
Seckinger p 4 0 1 1 Beck 3b 4 0 0 0
Rothernberger ss 1 0 0 0 Balint p 4 1 2 1
Steffen ss 3 0 1 0 Herion c 3 0 1 0
Patras pr 0 1 0 0 Gall cf 4 1 2 1
Fagan c 4 0 0 0 Porter dp 4 0 0 0
Williams 3b 4 0 1 1 Coppack 2b 4 0 2 0
Johnston 3b 0 0 0 0 VanSciver 1b 4 0 0 0
Denn dp 4 0 0 0 Brady lf 3 0 0 0
Wagner rf 3 1 1 0 Volko ph 1 0 0 0
Melillo 1b 4 0 0 0 Garguilo rf 0 0 0 0
Burgette 2b 3 0 0 0 Totals 34 3 5 3 Totals 32 2 8 2
Downingtown West 001 010 001--3
Avon Grove 200 000 000--22B - Steffen, Wagner, Needham, Balint. 3B -- Hays, Gall.
IP H R BB SO
Downingtown WestSeckinger, W 9 8 2 2 7Avon GroveBalint, L 9 5 3 2 15