WARRINGTON >> For North Penn, this one couldn’t come soon enough.
“Honestly,” said Knights right-hander Bri Battavio, “this is the hungriest we’ve ever been for this game.
“We wanted this bad,” the NP senior said of Thursday’s showdown with Central Bucks South. “It almost felt like the playoff game last year (a 1-0 NP win in districts).”
Playoff intensity was delivered with every pitch, each team’s ace refusing to give.
But North Penn broke through.
Battavio’s right arm, Emily Groarke’s glove in right and Elia Namey’s good eye in the fifth produced a 1-0 victory for the Knights, earning them sole possession of first place and clinching them at least a share of the Suburban One League Continental Conference.
On a cool, windy day at South, North Penn came in with ice-cold resolve.
Said Battavio: “We knew when we lost 11-0 (to them earlier in the regular season), when that happens to you, you feel like crap, to put it lightly.”
On Thursday there was nothing but elation. Battavio worked her curveball inside and out, kept everything off the plate and clamped down whenever she had to, forcing the Titans (9-2 conference) to leave eight runners stranded.
“I wasn’t giving them anything they can drive because I know they have a great team,” she said. “They have a great lineup, a great defense, so we knew we had to play our best softball to beat this team.”
It looked like North Penn’s time had come in the fourth, when Battavio belted a leadoff double to the gap in left center.
Elia Namey then drew a walk, giving the Knights (10-1 conference) two on with no outs. But right hander Kylie Kenney, playing her part in this pitcher’s duel, retired the next three batters to get out of the jam.
But that jam grew even tighter next inning. North Penn loaded the bases — Jordan Pietrzykoski legged out an infield single, Groarke reached on a fielder’s choice (Pietrzykoski out at second), Victoria Juckniewitz drew a walk and Battavio was hit by a pitch.
Namey then stepped to the plate, and with a full count, she laid off Ball Four and strode to first while Groarke came trotting home for the go-ahead run.
Groarke’s exploits also included a diving catch in the first and another she made on the run in the second. South kept trying to even things up but couldn’t bunch anything together.
“We didn’t hit,” Titans coach Kevin Rosini said, “and Bri pitched a really good game and got the big outs when she needed them. And the one run they did score we just couldn’t get out of that inning.”
South’s best chance came in the seventh, when — with one out — Lauren Nones lined a single to left and Maddie Rowley bunted her way on, giving the Titans runners at first and second.
But Battavio got Alexa Ortman to fly out to left and Alex DeLeon to hit into a force at third to end it.
“I thought we were gonna maybe turn on a little magic there,” Rosini said, “but it just wasn’t meant to be today. We’ll take the weekend off, come back Monday and have a good practice, have a good Senior Night Tuesday (against CB East) and get ready for districts.”
North Penn now has a chance to clinch the conference outright with a win against Pennridge on Tuesday at home.
“That’s a really good team,” Knights coach Rick Torresani said of South. “It was enjoyable, a nice win. Now we got one more to go.”
Battavio struck out three and didn’t allow a walk.
Asked what he liked best about her performance, Torresani said: “her intensity. And staying within herself. She stayed within herself, did what she could do, and spotted the ball with speed, so that’s what really helped.”
Top Photo: North Penn’s Bri Battavio leaps and lets out a yell after throwing the final pitch of the Knights victory over Central Bucks South during their game on Thursday, May 11, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)