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DLN ALL-AREA: Avon Grove’s Balint turns in year to remember

(For the rest of our All-Area softball coverage, see our Coach of the Year story and our list of first team, second team and honorable mention)

Maggie Balint had a 2016 season that will be remembered at Avon Grove — and throughout Southeast Pennsylvania — for a long, long time.

As the lone senior on the Avon Grove squad, she led the Red Devils to their first-ever PIAA Class AAAA state final appearance. In the circle, she struck out 371 batters in 195 innings for a 24-4 record and 0.50 ERA, allowing only 58 hits and 38 walks, while holding opponents to a team batting average of .090. At the plate, she batted a team-leading .455 with a team-leading 40 hits, seven home runs, five doubles, four triples, 21 RBIs and 17 runs scored.

For all those reasons, and many more, the Oregon-bound Balint is the Daily Local News 2016 All-Area Softball Player of the Year,

Named Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania for the third straight year, Balint finished her Avon Grove career with 1,322 strikeouts (a Pennsylvania state record from 43 feet, and second all-time in the state behind Steph Van Brakle’s 1,357). She also finished with a state record 75 career wins.

A Pennsylvania first team all-state selection, she will play with the PGF All-American Team July 29 (game will be broadcast live on ESPNU), and was a Flosoftball First Team All-American and a member of the First Team All-USA Team (USA Today High School Sports). This This month, she was named Pennsylvania High School Softball Coaches Association Player of the Year.

For Avon Grove, Balint was noted for habit of coming through best when the going got toughest.

“Maggie has competitive greatness,” said Avon Grove softball head coach Mike DiLuzio. “She strives under pressure, and uses it as an opportunity for personal growth, and at the same time, makes those around her better. She plays every game like it’s her last — she gives you everything she has in every game.”

Against a strong Downingtown West squad in a key deciding game for the Ches-Mont National League championship, Balint came to bat in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game, and slammed a two-run homer to lead Avon Grove to a 6-2 victory and, eventually, the league title.

In the PIAA Class AAAA state semifinal, her two-run inside-the-park home run gave the Red Devils a 4-2 victory, sending them to the state finals for the first time ever.

Avon Grove's Maggie Balint, the 2016 Daily Local News All-Area Softball Player of the Year. (PETE BANNAN -- DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA)

Avon Grove’s Maggie Balint, the 2016 Daily Local News All-Area Softball Player of the Year. (PETE BANNAN — DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA)

At Penn State for the state championship game against Hempfield, Balint did not allow a hit for the first seven innings, as the Red Devils lost, 1-0, in eight innings, as the winning rally scored on a walk, bunt single, error and sacrifice fly.

“Maggie has an incredible work ethic,” DiLuzio said. “She is the one you see running hills after games to get her work in. She doesn’t take her talent for granted — everyone has a talent, but how you treat and what you do with that talent determines how far you will go in life.

“She also has a plan of attack on how she wants to pitch every batter, and a vision to see the big picture, to see how things should look in the final stages. She has confidence — which is a choice — and believes in herself.”

Balint has a level-headed approach to her pre-game preparation on the day of a game.

“I’m not superstitious and I don’t have any [pre-game] rituals,” said Balint. “I really just try to stay relaxed and not get too pumped too early. I like to joke around and keep everything light during warm-ups. At game time I like to stay within myself and not get too high or too low.”

Balint thoroughly enjoyed the experience at the PIAA Class AAAA state finals at Penn State, which was Avon Grove’s first appearance.

“The whole experience was so amazing,” said Balint. “We got to spend the three hour long trip to State College on a coach bus, we played music and did our hair. Playing in front of a big crowd with TV cameras broadcasting the game live, it really felt like we were college players.

“What I remember most is how great my team played, under all the pressure and stress we played like it was any other game. My teammates played fearless and gave everything they had, I am so proud of them. I felt like everything was working pretty well, my rise ball was effective throughout the whole game and was able to get some key strikeouts.”

Balint was recruited heavily by a number of colleges, and will be headed to University of Oregon next fall. The Ducks play in the Pac-12, one of the top softball conferences in America, and have won the last four conference titles.

“I picked Oregon because Mike White is one of the best pitching coaches,” said Balint. “I plan on majoring in Communications and hope to someday be a broadcaster on ESPN.”

Balint has a wide variety of pitches, and while she doesn’t try to pattern her game after any particular pitcher, she enjoys watching Nicki Blue of South Carolina.

Balint said her biggest mentor is her travel coach, Joe Spina.

“We have worked together since I was an eighth-grader and I wouldn’t be the pitcher I am today without all his coaching and guidance,” said Balint. “He started teaching me when I was young how to be a pitcher, a ball player and a leader. He has taught me lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. We not only have a great coach/player relationship but we also have created a lifelong friendship. He believed in me when many didn’t. I know he always has my back. He is the most selfless person I know. I am so lucky to have him as my coach.”

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