WEST GROVE – The Cardiac Kids changed their winning formula. Having gotten to the state playoffs via last-inning comeback thrillers, the Council Rock North softball team exploded early in their opening round PIAA Class 6A tournament game and cruised to a 9-5 victory over Avon Grove.
Facing elimination twice during districts, the Indians came from one run down to defeat sister school CR South 4-3 in the last inning of their consolation game. They then pulled off a real miracle, rallying from two runs down with two outs and the bases empty in the seventh to defeat North Penn 5-4 in the battle for the fifth and final state berth.
For their opening round in states, CR North (18-6) drew District One champ Avon Grove (19-6), a team that has been to the Keystone State playoffs five straight years. Last year, they made it all the way to the title game before losing to Hempfeld 1-0 in eight innings. Returning all but one starter, this year’s Red Devils boasted at least seven players in their lineup who hit over .400.
Jenn Khantzian, the Rock’s stellar sophomore pitcher, knew the Indians faced a most worthy foe. “We knew they were district champs and the previous year, they had gotten to the state finals. That made most of us a little nervous. Otherwise, we didn’t know too much about them. They definitely had a good hitting team.”
The Red Devils tried to flex their hitting muscles in the first inning but the Rock defense rose up as it has done all season. With a runner aboard and two out, Allyson Wallauer lined a shot to left that North’s Riley Sheehy turned, leapt and somehow grabbed to end the threat.
As Jenna would attest, such fielding gems are a pitcher’s best friend.
“I love having such a strong defense behind me. As a pitcher, you can’t always strike people out. There’s going to be balls hit. It’s really nice to know I have such a solid defense behind me to make the plays. It’s a very relieving feeling.”
Further relief came in the form of an Indian offensive explosion. In the top of the third inning, Lauren Begg drew a one-out walk. Sabrina Crane then gave North a lead they would never relinquish when she lined a home run over the 205-foot sign in left field, plating Begg.
Crane’s blast made the entire Indian team breathe easier. “We felt a sense of relief because in the previous two games, we were kind of struggling to get runs. Coming back in the seventh inning two times in a row definitely put more stress on us. Getting ahead early in this game and knowing we had a little room to work with was definitely a relief.”
Council Rock added two more runs in the top of the fourth on singles by Jenna, Elena Calibeo and Riley Sheehy. In the fifth, catcher Taylor Amazeen swung the hot Louisville Slugger when she lined a double to left center. Courtesy runner Rachel Lorence would eventually scamper home on Madison Tomlinson’s sacrifice fly to center, making the score 5-0.
The Indians broke the game wide open in the top of the sixth when they erupted for a four-run rally. Singles by Calibeo and Sheehy, a perfect squeeze bunt by Begg and a two run double by Jenna increased the Indians lead to 9-0.
Jenna did not allow the big lead to alter her pitching psyche. “Typically, I pitch the same way. I try not to let it get to me that we’re winning by a lot. It only takes one inning for a team to score that many runs. I definitely don’t try to get too comfortable.”
For five innings, the potent Red Devil hitters could not catch up with Jenna. “Everything seemed to be working. Definitely toward the middle of the game, I was going more with my drop. That was working well. Usually, that is not the pitch I go to. I don’t know if it was the way their hitters were adjusting but my drop got a lot of people out.”
Avon Grove did finally come alive in the sixth. Wallauer doubled to left, moved to third on Rachel Butler’s fly to center, and scored on a wild pitch. Carly Raymond followed with a home run over the centerfield fence. In the seventh inning, the Red devils parlayed four singles, a throwing error and a sacrifice fly into three more tallies.
Jenna felt the 9-0 lead may have provided too much security. “When they started to get more runs, I don’t want to say I got nervous but I definitely think we started to get a little too comfortable with the score being so high. We were playing a little looser and that may be why there were so many runs scored by the other team.”
A real competitor, Jenna bore down and got the last batter to line out to Begg to ice the victory. “We were so excited. It was a really good feeling knowing we just beat the district champion. It gave us a boost of confidence feeling we can beat anyone.”
The 9-5 win sets up a second-round game with District Two champion Hazelton. Though knowing little about the Cougars, Jenna believes her team will be ready. “We are all really excited. We are all proud of what we’ve done because (Council Rock) hasn’t been in the states since before the school split.”
Right now, the Indians rank among the best eight teams in the state. Pretty soon, that standing just might rise even higher.
TOP PHOTO: Council Rock North’s Elena Calibeo (6), right, avoids tag by Avon Grove’s Olivia Kunitsky (3) in PIAA opener between the schools June 5 at Spring-Ford. (John Gleeson – 21st-Century Media)
CR North 9, Avon Grove 5
(June 5 at Spring-Ford)
Council Rock North 002 214 0 – 9 14 3
Avon Grove 000 002 3 – 5 9 0
WP: Jenna Khantzian; LP: Rachel Butler.
Doubles: CRN – Taylor Amazon, Jenna Khantzian, AG -Allyson Wallauer.
Home runs: CRN – Sabrina Crane, AG – Carly Raymond.
RBIs: CRN – Jenna Khantzian 3, Sabrina Crane 2, Juliana Shields, Riley Sheehy, Lauren Begg, AG – Camryn Laterza, Allyson Wallauer, Olivia Kunitsky.
Multiple Hits: CR North – Riley Sheehy 3-for-5, Lauren Begg 2-for-4, Taylor Amazeen 2-for-4, Jenna Khantzian 2-for-2, Elena Calibeo 2-for-4, Avon Grove – Morgan Defeo 3-for-4.
Records: CR North (); Avon Grove ().