WARMINSTER >> As they warmed up next to each other, St. Basil Academy senior first baseman Amanda Clark took a glance over at pitcher Arianna Sticco.
What Clark was all she needed to know about the kind of outing Sticco was going to give the Panthers. Considering that just a few weeks ago, Sticco was the team’s No. 2 hurler with next to no experience, it was a big sign.
Sticco didn’t pitch like a newbie while Clark and the bats broke out as Basil topped Christopher Dock 10-0 in six innings in the District I Class AA title game Thursday at William Tennent.
“She was down and in the zone and that’s what you need to keep batters off balance,” Clark said. “She did well mixing up speeds, mixing up locations, everything. She pitched a great game and her not being a pitcher until this year and having to just jump in and work on things, it was hard for her.”
Thanks to their emergency arm, the Panthers are back-to-back-to-back district champs and on to the state tournament for the third straight season. To get there, they needed to figure out Dock sophomore Emily Groarke, who’s been throwing very well after coming off an early season injury.
Sticco took over after starter Kiera Peters was lost for the season due to injury.
For two innings, it looked like runs would be a scare commodity on both sides. Sticco pitched around a leadoff double by Groarke in the first while Groarke stranded runners in the first two innings. St. Basil’s defense proved early on that it was locked in.
“(Sticco) wasn’t an overpowering pitcher but we couldn’t seem to square up today,” Dock coach Wayne Benner said. “It sounds like a complaint and I know the score is 10-0 but we did hit some balls really hard to their fielders and they had some of the opposite where the ball would hit the dirt and spin and we couldn’t throw them out. But that’s not going to add up to 10 runs and it doesn’t change the outcome, it just seemed to be one of those days.”
Both teams employ sneaky good seniors as their No. 9 hitters and it was Basil center fielder Lindsay Joyce that helped finally crack the scoreboard. The Panther’s last hitter led off the third with a single, then swiped her way to second base and then stole third while the next two batters went down.
Having drawn a walk her first time up, Clark came to the plate knowing this was the time to cash in. Clark and Groarke just battled all game, with Clark going 2-for-2 with three RBIs and walking twice and in that third inning at-bat, the senior first baseman delivered, singling in Joyce.
“She pitched around, she was all over and it was kind of hard, actually,” Clark said. “The first time she got me with a lot of foul balls and even though she walked me, she really battled back. I could tell she didn’t want to pitch it to me and it was hard for me because I really wanted to swing at every pitch that was coming. I knew I had to be patient.”
That run was huge for Basil and even bigger after Sticco came back and got a shut-down top of the fourth on just seven pitches. The senior was even better in the fifth, putting the Pioneers away on five pitches.
“She has been incredible,” St. Basil coach Steve Sonneborn said. “She’s made really good pitches where teams are popping up or hitting ground balls. I can’t speak enough of how she did for someone who’s not, quote, a pitcher. She took the ball and was hungry for it.”
The Panthers were still walking a tenuous line in the fifth when Clark drew a walk with senior second baseman Abby Carter at third base. Paige Larini, a recent JV call-up, came up clutch when she skied a ball to the deepest part of center field for a sac fly that easily plated Carter.
Basil’s baserunning overall was strong Thursday, with five steals as a team and plenty of runners moving up on passed balls or wild pitches. So when Clark took second in the fifth, it set her up to score when Angela Zeidler ripped an RBI single to left.
“Getting to three runs, knowing it’s harder for them to get three than one and continuing to keep producing was huge for us,” Clark said. “Coach always says keep going, it’s never enough. You always have to get a couple then get a couple more.”
Basil’s bats broke the game in the sixth when Clark hit a two-run single and two batters later Zeidler crushed a two-run ground rule double. Shortstop Jess Marino then ended the game when she hit into a fielder’s choice and an errant throw sailed past the first baseman, bringing in the last two runs.
The loss ends a solid run for Dock’s seniors but they’ll have some key players back including Groarke, junior shortstop Jill Bolton and catcher Olivia Boyle. After a slow start, the Pioneers came on strong and were trending up heading into the postseason.
“Every year I say the same thing that I hope we’re healthy and we’re playing our best ball come district time,” Benner said. “Although I’m disappointed in the way we played today, I wish we had five more games left because we’re getting better every game. It took us a long time to get where we were on a plane where we could keep moving forward.”
Basil and its nine seniors move on to states, thanks to one who’s delivered for years with her bat and another who’s been delivered for just a few weeks with her pitching.
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