EAST GOSHEN - When the Avon Grove High School softball team captured the District 1 Class AAAA championship last week, pitcher Maggie Balint simply wasn't herself, allowing first inning runs and striking out a pedestrian seven hitters, the lone time this season she had single digit whiffs in a game.
A few days without a ball in her hand was all that was needed to rejuvenate the sophomore star, as Balint was beyond overpowering in Monday's 5-0 win over Central in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. Balint threw a perfect game while striking out 19 of the 21 hitters to come to the plate. The remaining two outs both came on Central bunt attempts, one an easy comebacker to Balint, the other a pop-up to catcher Alyssa Herion.
The Devils advance to the quarterfinals against either Parkland or Spring-Ford on Thursday at a neutral site and time to be announced.
"I didn't do anything for a couple days, just kind of sat on the couch,' said Balint. "I was definitely well rested. I felt so much better today than I did last week. This was only the second time I've had a perfect game.'
The 19 strikeouts also mark a career-high for Balint, equaled in her other perfect game against Octorara a year ago as a freshman. But all those whiffs can make it tough for the remainder of the defense to keep its focus.
"That's where the mental side of the game comes in,' said shortstop Logan Needham. "You have to stay focused and assume that any pitch might wind up in a ball hit to you. You just have to stay prepared the whole game, thinking every pitch about what you are going to do with the ball if it is hit to you.'
It was obvious from the get-go that Balint had everything going. In striking out seven of the first nine hitters she faced, Balint threw 18 of her first 20 pitches for strikes, not even seeing a three-ball count until the fourth inning.
"What an awesome way to start the state tournament,' said Avon Grove coach Julie Hatfield. "She kind of got beat up a bit last game. It says a lot about her as a pitcher to respond the way she did today. She could have come out thinking about the last game, but she just put it behind her and came back strong.'
Needham helped get her team out to an early lead, reaching on a throwing error and using her speed to add to the consequences of the miscue by moving up to second when the ball squirted away. Emilee Beck beat out a bunt to make it first and third, and Needham scored when Balint was thrown out at first on a dropped third strike. Beck scored on a single from Alyssa Herion later in the inning.
"We've struggled at times to get runs early,' said Balint. "So once we got some runs on the board like that we all kind of just said we've got this.'
The Red Devils scored another run in the second, with Needham beating out an infield single and scoring on the second hit from Herion on the afternoon. Another pair came in during the fifth inning on a single from Alli Volko, and a shot to left from Balint that the left fielder couldn't hang on to. Balint wound up on third, and courtesy runner Karissa Brady scored on a wild pitch.
"Speed is a big part of our game,' said Hatfield. "We wanted to come out, make contact and use our speed. We got it done today.'
A first round win in the books, Avon Grove can now look forward to the quarterfinals, the next step along the way to a PIAA championship.
"It's so good to have one under our belts,' said Needham. "But we really don't have a lot of nerves anyway. We tend to get all of that out of the way on the bus to the game, so we can just be calm by game time.'
Avon Grove 5, Central 0CENTRAL ab r h bi AVON GROVE ab r h biDranofe SS 3 0 0 0 Needham SS 3 2 1 0
G. Franklin 2B 3 0 0 0 Beck 1B 3 1 1 0
Rosenberg P 3 0 0 0 Balint P 3 1 0 0
Arrington CF 2 0 0 0 Herion C 3 0 2 2
Walker 3B 2 0 0 0 Gall CF 3 0 0 0
Gjoka RF 2 0 0 0 Coppock 2B 3 0 0 0
D. Franklin LF 2 0 0 0 Daly LF 3 0 1 0
Rodriguez C 1 0 0 0 T. Volko 3B 3 0 1 0
Birkmeyer PH 1 0 0 0 VanSciver 1B 0 0 0 0
LaHardy 1B 2 0 0 0 A. Volko RF 3 1 1 0
Gargiulo LF 0 0 0 0Totals 21 0 0 0 Totals 24 5 7 2
Central 000 000 0 -- 0
Avon Grove 201 020 X -- 5
IP H R BB SO
CentralRosenberg, L 6.0 7 5 0 3Avon GroveBalint, W 7.0 0 0 0 19