EAST WHITELAND - It wasn't exactly a situation the Avon Grove High School softball team was used to. Before they had even picked up a bat, they were down two runs against North Penn in the district championship game.
It didn't matter, the Red Devils have handled adversity well all season long.
Thanks to a home run by Alyssa Herion and a clutch hit from Ali Volko, No. 2 Avon Grove was able to overcome the early deficit on its way to capturing the school's first district title with a 4-2 victory over No. 9 North Penn during Thursday afternoon's District 1 Class AAAA final at Great Valley High School.Avon Grove will move on to play District 12 runner-up Central in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs on Monday at a neutral site and time to be announced.
For now, though, states can wait as the Red Devils were basking in the glow of their first district title.Avon Grove became the first Chester County softball team to win a 4A district crown. They are also the first county team to win a district title in any classification since Octorara (AA) accomplished the feat in 2004."I don't think it has really sunk in yet for any of us,' said Avon Grove coach Julie Hatfield. "We talked a bit [Wednesday] about what they had a chance to accomplish, but it's still a little hard to comprehend right now. I think maybe it will start to sink in when we go home and have our banquet and get recognized for all we've done so far.'
North Penn got out of the gate strong. Lead-off hitter Erin Maher took the second pitch she saw and drove it to the gap in left center for a double. After Lauren Schwartz sacrificed her over, Maher came into score when Jackie Bilotti stroked a single up the middle. Bilotti then scored on a sacrifice fly from Becky Chistoffer to give the Maidens a quick 2-0.
"First inning was a shock,' said Avon Grove pitcher Maggie Balint. "I knew I had to work harder, but I was hurting all over -- my knees hurt, my arm hurts, and I have bruises all over. I think it took me almost falling apart to get my mind where it needed to be. But the whole team stepped up and we did what we needed to get it done. '
Balint got things going in the bottom half of the first, adding to her collection of bruises by getting hit-by-a-pitch with two outs. Herion followed, and after fouling off a couple pitches, she connected on a breaking ball and sent it over the left field fence for a home run to tie the game at 2-2."I was thinking that it was just too early to call it quits,' said Herion. "None of us is used to being behind early like that the way Maggie pitches. But it was only two runs and it was the first inning. She threw me a low, outside pitch and I just pulled it.'
Avon Grove struck again in the fifth. Emma Daly led off the inning with a little blooper into no man's land between the pitcher and the second baseman, and beat it out for an infield single. Taylor Volko then sacrificed her over to bring up Ali Volko. Volko -- not even in the line-up in the Devils semifinal win -- delivered in a big way. She stroked an RBI double to left to score Daly to give Avon Grove a 3-2 lead."I just wanted to make contact,' said Volko. "I knew we had a runner on second, and we needed to get more runs on the board. I'm just so excited we won the district title.'
Avon Grove wasn't done yet, though. Logan Needham reached on a single to short left, and moved up on a passed ball. Emilee Beck then brought her home with an RBI single to right."I just can't say enough about the fighters every one of these girls is,' said Hatfield. "Any player on this team can come through in the clutch at any time.'
Balint went the distance to earn the win in the circle, allowing just the two first-inning runs, and scattering four hits. She struck out seven, and walked just one.
"I'm definitely going to take the next couple days and get rested up and try to heal,' said Balint. "I'll be ready to go on Monday for states.' In an already historic season for Avon Grove, winning the district title was like icing on the cake."I am just so proud of this team,' said Herion. "It feels awesome to be able to represent my school this way. I'm only a junior, so I'm looking forward to seeing how much better we can get. But winning a district championship just feels amazing.'
Avon Grove 4, North Penn 2
NORTH PENN ab r h bi AVON GROVE ab r h biMaher CF 3 1 1 0 Needham SS 3 1 1 0
Schwartz DP 4 0 1 0 Beck 1B 3 0 1 1
Bilotti P 3 1 1 1 Balint P 1 1 0 0
Tumasz SS 3 0 0 0 Herion C 1 1 1 2
Christoffers RF 2 0 0 1 Gall CF 3 0 0 0
Curley 3B 3 0 1 0 Coppock 2B 3 0 0 0
Schusler C 3 0 0 0 Daly LF 3 1 1 0
Rosato LF 3 0 0 0 T. Volko 3B 2 0 0 0
Scholber 2B 2 0 0 0 A. Volko RF 2 0 1 1
Ostopovich PH 0 1 1 1
Gill FX/1B 0 0 0 0 Totals 27 2 4 2 Totals 21 4 5 4
North Penn 200 000 0 -- 2
Avon Grove 200 020 X -- 42B - Maher, A. Volko. HR - Herion.
IP H R BB SO
North PennBilotti, L 6.0 5 4 3 3Avon GroveBalint, W 7.0 4 2 1 7