HATBORO >> With runners on the corners and two outs, Marisa Browne spun the ball around in her right hand like she does before every pitch.
Her team clinging to a two-run lead in the top of the seventh, one more strike would end the game. So Browne stopped twirling the ball, wound up and delivered. St. Hubert’s second baseman Avery Hibbs had no chance, swinging through Browne’s offering to cap off a stellar afternoon for the Archbishop Wood junior.
As the pitcher exchanged high-fives with her infielders, the assembled crowd applauded her do-it-all performance in a tight 2-0 win Tuesday afternoon at the Hatboro Little League Fields.
“She’s awesome, she works so hard at everything she does,” Wood coach Jackie Ecker said. “She pumps up this team and she is the backbone of the team, even as a junior.”
Browne went the distance, spinning a three-hit complete game and struck out six St. Hubert hitters, all par for the course for the reigning Philadelphia Catholic League pitcher of the year. Browne is pitcher first and foremost, but she’s not a bad hitter either and it was her two-run single in the fifth that broke open a scoreless draw and handed her all the scoring she needed to win.
The effort kept the Vikings as the lone unbeaten team in the PCL and it was a good demonstration of how they’ve done it. They have Browne, who has improved from last year’s breakout season, a rock-solid defense and an offense that’s shown a knack for some timely plays when it needs them.
This is still a pretty young team, with juniors and sophomores making up the bulk of the lineup, but it’s a close-knit group. That may be the secret.
“We got closer as a team and that’s helped us a lot, we’re unified,” shortstop Gia Lancellotti said. “We’re a lot more confident this year. Going to Myrtle Beach (in preseason) really helped us because we had to stay together and that helped us get closer together.”
Wood came into Tuesday’s game after beating perennial league power Archbishop Ryan 8-1 on Monday, while the Bambies had beaten the Ragdolls 10-0 in their last game. But Ecker knew not to expect a lot of runs on Tuesday.
St. Hubert sent Lindsey Davies to the circle and the sophomore was certainly very good in limiting Wood to five hits. Browne was just better.
“I was switching speeds between my fastball and changeup and getting good movement,” Browne said. “I was trying to work all of that today. (The defense) helps me a lot, it gives me a lot of confidence knowing they’re behind me and supporting me. If I make a mistake, they’ll be there for me.”
Browne attributes her improvements in the pitching circle to a switch in travel ball teams this past winter. She now plays for Chaos Softball out of Delaware County and thanks to her new pitching coaches, was able to add more velocity and fine-tune her array of pitches.
Tuesday, Browne retired the first 17 batters she faced before Erin Hogan broke up her perfect game with a two-out single in the sixth inning. Browne got into a bit of a jam in the sixth, putting runners on the corners but came back to get Jordan Frye swinging to end the frame.
The junior also got plenty of help from her defense. Lancellotti had six balls hit her way and made the play all six times, the best a snare of Kait Jaworski’s liner in the fifth inning. First baseman Sophia Kent had a couple of nice plays too, jumping to corral a high throw and tag the base and showing some lighting reflexes to grab a screamer off the bat of Hibbs for the first out of the sixth.
“We practice it a lot and it’s annoying when you practice it, but it definitely pays off,” Lancellotti said of the defense. “We probably spend 75 percent of the time on it. We’re a little more strong defensively, so we’ve been working to get better offensively.”
Wood had threatened a couple times before the fifth inning, but hadn’t been able to break through. The Vikings couldn’t plate second baseman Jules Donchez after her two-out triple in the third and in the fourth, Browne was thrown out at home after a Taylor Carter bunt.
Ecker said she was trying to be aggressive in a tie game when she sent Brown home from third on the bunt. While Wood hadn’t scored, there seemed to be a sense in the dugout they were going to do so eventually.
The fifth inning saw everything come together for Wood. Sam Link led off with a bunt single and after two outs, Kent reached after Davies was able to knock down a comebacker but not get a throw off in time. That brought up Browne, who had grounded into a fielder’s choice and hit an infield single.
This time, the junior worked a 3-2 count, fouling off four pitches before Davies left one in the zone and Browne launched it to center field, scoring Link with Kent beating the relay throw home.
“Quite honestly, she’s been struggling a little bit at the plate,” Ecker said of Browne. “But she always seems to come up with that clutch hit and we know that she can do it. It’s just a matter of doing it. I’m not ready to move her down the lineup because I think she will always come through for us like today.”
Wood’s week doesn’t get any easier. The Vikings face Conwell-Egan, the only other team to beat St. Hubert in PCL play, on Thursday and host a solid Mount Saint Joseph team on Friday.
Last year, Wood took some teams by surprise as it finished second to Cardinal O’Hara in the PCL regular season standings. This year, teams know what’s coming but the Vikings think they’re a stronger team and want to advance farther in the PCL and state playoffs to prove it.
What’s coming is Marisa Browne, and that’s reason enough for them to do it.
“We were kind of winging it last year,” Browne said. “This year, we know where we are and we’re just going to try and keep going.”
Archbishop Wood 2, St. Hubert 0
ST. HUBERT 000 000 0 – 0 3 2
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 000 020 x – 2 5 0
WP: Marisa Browne. LP: Lindsey Davies. SO-BB: Browne 6-1, Davies 7-0. 3B: Jules Donchez (AW). 2B: Kylie Guerra (AW).
Multiple hits: AW – Marisa Browne 2-3.