By BILL RUDICK
WEST GROVE — When the second-seeded Avon Grove softball team takes the field against No. 9 North Penn in today's District 1 Class AAAA final at Great Valley at 3:30 p.m., it wil mark the first time in program history they will play for a district softball title.
They can make a little county history as well. A win would make Avon Grove (18-4) the first county team to win a District 1 championship since Octorara won back-to-back Class AA titles in 2003-04. No county team has won a championship in Class AAAA.
"We're excited about the chance to play in the district finals,' said Avon Grove coach Julie Hatfield. "We've been in some high intensity, meaningful games over the last few weeks. We'll just have to draw on that experience and remember how we responded. Just stay relaxed, have fun and play our game.'Pitcher Maggie Balint has been as dominant in the playoffs as she has been all year, allowing just a single earned run in 22 innings pitched, to lower her season ERA from 0.49 to 0.46. She has struck out 38 hitters in Avon Grove's three district games, raising her season total to 324.
"We know all about their pitcher,' said North Penn coach Rick Torresani. "We know she's a great pitcher. But the nucleus of this team was also around two seasons ago when we came up against (Shanahan pitcher) Kate Poppe in the district finals and won. We're up for the challenge.'
Taking that challenge for North Penn (17-6) are pitcher Jackie Bilotti, who tops the Maidens in batting at .445; center fielder Erin Maher at .437; Becky Christoffer (RF/.387); Meghan Curley (3B/.389) and Lauren Schwartz (DP/.387).
Bilotti has been solid in the circle over the course of four playoff games, tossing all 33 innings — including two extra-inning affairs — North Penn has played in the postseason. She has allowed six earned runs on 21 hits, striking out 15 and walking nine.
"She's a location pitcher,' said Hatfield of Bilotti. "She's got good spin on all of her pitches. We haven't really seen an overpowering pitcher yet, but a pitcher with good location has its own set of challenges. We just have to get into a mental routine before each at bat, and approach each time at the plate one pitch at a time.'
The Red Devils have gotten a hit or a run scored from seven different players in their run, led by catcher Alyssa Herion and shortstop Logan Needham, who each have three hits in three games. Herion has a pair of doubles to her credit, while Needham, Courtney Gall and Morgan VanSciver have a two-base hit each. Though she's still searching for her first postseason hit, Balint has scored four of their six runs.
North Penn is riding a bit of a hot streak. After opening the season as the top-ranked team in the area by one source, the Maidens struggled early, finishing second in the Suburban One Continental division.
Since losing to Central Bucks South on April 28, the Maidens have reeled off 11 straight victories."Ever since we got Erin Maher back — she was hurt during basketball season — we've played really well,' said Torresani. "The last three games, we've beaten two very good teams (No. 8 CB East and top seeded William Tennent) in extra innings, and held off a very good hitting Spring-Ford team yesterday (Tuesday), so we're battle tested.'
Avon Grove, meanwhile, is just looking for more of the same.
"We really just need to keep doing what we've done all year,' said Hatfield. "We have to work together, stay focused and just play our game. We want to fall into a routine and keep doing what we've done to get here.'