ASTON >> It seems like ages since Sun Valley was on top of the District 1 softball world.
In 2012, the program won its only district title.
All-Delco shortstop Kenzie Lewis, a senior, was in seventh grade when the Vanguards won it all. Back then, her dad, Jerome, was the head coach and her sister, Karly, was a senior starter.
The Vanguards returned to the playoffs the next year. They haven’t been back since.
Ever since four-year starters Lewis and Bridget Thomas were freshmen, the Vanguards have been in a perpetual rebuilding state. There were too many losses and not enough wins.
That’s starting to change.
It’s clear the Vanguards are talented enough to compete in the Ches-Mont League and beyond.
“It’s a big difference from last year. We’re playing together,” Lewis said Friday, following Sun Valley’s impressive 7-0 romp over Ches-Mont American Division foe Great Valley. “Last year, everyone was kind of new and we were a lot younger. After having that year of experience, I feel as though we mesh very well. We are coming together.”
Indeed, the Vanguards are playing excellent softball again. Pat Rafferty, in his second full season as varsity coach (he was promoted from JV mid-season in 2014), is beginning to see his players’ hard work come to fruition. After dropping their first two decisions of the season, the Vanguards have rattled off four straight wins, all of which came at the expense of Ches-Mont League opponents.
“It breeds confidence,” Rafferty said. “You can see it in the kids, they’re a confident bunch right now. I know it’s just four wins, but it’s something we haven’t had in recent years. League wins, too, which is better. I think we had one win in my career against Great Valley, and now this year we have two against them. We’re beating teams in our league … and I think the league isn’t used to us winning. The girls are really confident right now, and winning down that.”
Maddy Gutowiecz is in her second full season as the Vanguards’ top pitcher. She has made big improvements from the circle and at the plate. Gutowiecz leaned on her nasty changeup Friday as she held Great Valley to four singles. She struck out three and didn’t allow a walk en route to a complete game shutout.
“Pitching is my thing. I’ve been pitching since I was really young,” Gutowiecz said. “It would feel really nice to get to the playoffs because we really haven’t had those opportunities. We are really coming together.”
Sun Valley (4-2) churned out 12 hits against Great Valley hurler Morgan Orlowski. In the first inning, the Vanguards batted around and scored four runs. Freshman catcher Alayna Lloyd grounded out to first base to knock in Lewis, who went 2-for-4 with three runs scored and a pair of stolen bases. Later in the inning, Carli Williams rocketed a double to drive in two, then Cassidy Bridwell blooped a single to the outfield to bring home the Vanguards’ fourth run.
Last week, the Vanguards claimed their first win of the season with a thrilling, come-from-behind victory at Great Valley.
“We were confident, but we knew that they would be out for revenge since we already beat them once,” said Lewis, an All-Delco shortstop who will
continue her career at East Stroudsburg. “We didn’t take them lightly today. I feel like coming in with that mentality was better than thinking we could just roll over. I’m happy we didn’t do that today.”
Gutowiecz had four productive at bats, including a sacrifice fly in the second, and finished 3-for-3 with double.
Thomas, the Vanguards’ cleanup hitter, hit the ball hard four times. She slammed an RBI double in the sixth inning to make the score 7-0.
“I like to hit wherever I can,” Thomas said. “Anything I can do to help the team win.”
Rafferty is happy to see consistent production from the lineup. Five players had at least two hits Friday.
“All the girls know their role and they’re playing their role very well,” he said. “We have girls who are on the bench, ready to jump in and get a hit at any time. It’s a deep team. Madison Koons is a first-year varsity player and she’s crushing the ball. We have a freshman catcher in Alayna Lloyd, our No. 3 hitter, who is playing very well. So all of the kids are really contributing this year.”
The Vanguards are sitting pretty in the Ches-Mont American. First place is foreign territory to this team, but there’s a growing belief that they have enough talent to sustain this success the entire season.
“It’s been fun to watch them,” Rafferty said. “I believe they can continue playing this way. We have a long way to go, though.”
In nonleague action:
Interboro 4, Ridley 3 >> Barb Carosi’s three-run homer in the fifth inning was the difference. Ridley scored one in the sixth and two in the seventh to make things interesting, but the Bucs (3-0) held on behind the pitching of Bridget Bailey, who posted five strikeouts.
Amber Seamen collected two hits and Brittney Pinkerton drove in a run for Interboro. Julia Buckley doubled and tripled for the Green Raiders.
In the Bicetennial League:
Calvary Christian 13, Delco Christian 2 >> Slugging catcher Ronnie Falasco paced the Knights (2-2 overall, 1-1 league) with three hits, including a double.
Top photo: Sun Valley’s Claudia Davis takes a big swing in Friday’s Ches-Mont League game against Great Valley. Davis singled, walked and scored a run to help the Vanguards to a 4-2 victory. (Photo by Anne Neborak — Digital First Media).