Perkiomen Valley edges Avon Grove for softball crown
● By Steven Hoffman
With Avon Grove’s Maggie Balint and Perkiomen Valley’s Abby Wild in the circle, there was little doubt that hits were going to be hard to come by in the District 1 AAAA title game on June 2. In fact, from the opening inning on, it felt like the team that pushed across even one run would have a tremendous advantage.
Four eight innings, Balint and Wild were locked in a classic pitchers duel. Balint, who has averaged more than two strikeouts per inning during her record-breaking career, fired fastballs with pinpoint control that eluded the bats of Perkiomen Valley’s hitters. Wild, meanwhile, moved the ball up and down and inside and out to keep Avon Grove’s hitters off-balance and off the bases. Contrary to her name, Wild had excellent control of her pitches and did not allow Avon Grove hitters to reach base with walks. She also relied on a strong defense behind her.
Perhaps Avon Grove’s best opportunity to score came in the bottom of the fourth when they put runners on second and third with just one out. Olivia Kunitsky hit a one-out single to right and Camryn Laterza reached on a throwing error that put the two Avon Grove runners in scoring position with two chances to score a run—Mackenzie VanSciver and Laura Thompson were the next two batters up. VanSciver dropped a bunt that Wild fielded quickly and tossed the ball to catcher Noelle McCullough, who applied the tag for a second out. During the course of the play, Avon Grove’s runners advanced to second and third so there were still two runners in scoring position, but now with two outs.
Thompson stepped to the plate and promptly delivered a pop fly that seemed destined to fall for a hit in short left-field. Shortstop Ana Bruni raced back and made an excellent catch to end the scoring threat.
Balint went right back to work. She retired Perkiomen Valley in order in the top of the fifth. In fact, during the heart of the game, Balint retired 17 hitters in a row. In six of the nine innings, she set the opponents down in order, limiting Perkiomen Valley’s scoring opportunities. Wild yielded just one single over four innings, and it seemed as if the two hurlers were determined to keep the other team off the scoreboard indefinitely.
Perkiomen Valley’s offense broke through in the top of the ninth. Bruni reached base on a one-out bunt single. She advanced to second on a grounder off the bat of Rachael Helverson. When Kelsey Impink stepped to the plate, Bruni knew she wanted to do anything possible to get herself to third base with two outs so that she would have many more ways to score a run. The opportunity came on a delayed steal, and Bruni was now at third.
Impink hit a seeing-eye single just to the left of the second base bag, allowing Bruni to cross the plate easily and setting off a celebration for Perkiomen Valley. Balint struck out the next hitter to keep the score at 1-0.
Avon Grove had one last chance at the plate. Kunitsky worked a walk with one out, but Wild retired the next two hitters on a fly out and a ground out to close out the 1-0 win.
“They are a good team and they played well so you have to give them credit,” Avon Grove head coach Mike Deluzio said. “We had some opportunities, and they made some plays. That’s the way that these games go. The team that makes the plays is going to win. That’s why they call them championship games.”
Deluzio said that Wild did a good of changing speeds and the locations of pitches to keep the Avon Grove hitters in check.
“We’re a pretty good hitting and bunting team,” Deluzio said. “It might not have looked like that today. She really kept us off-balance.”
Balint, who was named Pennsylvania’s Gatorade High School Player of the Year for the third year in a row, turned in another dominant performance—she struck out 17 hitters and scattered three hits over the nine innings. It was a typically well-pitched game for the Avon Grove right-hander, and her coach appreciated the effort that she gave the team in the playoff game.
“She is a phenomenal pitcher—in my opinion the best pitcher in the state,” Deluzio said. “She’s a competitor and she doesn’t like to lose.”
Deluzio said that his young team—Balint is the only senior on the squad—had a lot to be proud of as they begin the state playoffs with a 22-3 record overall.