LIONVILLE — When an offense is struggling to score runs, it’ll find other alternatives to get runners to cross home plate.
For Avon Grove, that meant stealing bases and executing bunts.
The Red Devils played small ball to manufacture three runs in the fourth, then sat back and played sterling defense behind yet another shutout performance from pitcher Maggie Balint to engineer a 4-0 win on the road over Downingtown East.
“We had a slow start and knew had to just execute something,’ said Avon Grove shortstop Logan Needham, who chipped in with an RBI bunt, two stolen bases, and a run scored. “So we just started playing small ball, and kept things going from there.’
Balint (2 for 3, 2 doubles) got things going in the fourth with a lead-off walk. Alyssa Herion was hit by a pitch to make it first and second with none out, with each moving up on a double steal.
After Downingtown East starter Shannon O’ Dwyer got a strikeout, Alli Wallauer dropped down a bunt and beat the throw for a base hit. Meanwhile, Balint took off for home, going head first behind catcher Bridget Nordberg for the first run of the game.
Up came Logan Needham with runners on the corners. With both runners breaking on the pitch, Needham dropped down a perfect bunt to the right side. Claire Riley fielded it, and fired home, but not in time to get Herion, and it was 2-0. Wallauer moved all the way over to third on the play.
After Needham swiped second, Taylor Volko brought Wallauer home with an RBI groundout.
“One thing we always say is that if we get some people on base, we can create opportunities,’ said Red Devils’ coach Julie Hatfield. “Small ball can make some big changes in a game, and that inning really changed the momentum of the game, and we just rolled with it.’
Avon Grove tacked on an insurance run in the sixth. After Needham reached on a fielder’s chice and stole second, Volko, hitting in the eight-hole ripped a double to center.
“The bottom of the order came up huge for us today,’ said Balint. “Everyone really came through when called upon. We were hitting to the right side, getting bunts down, doing all the little things, which was good, because I struggled a little in the circle today and the team really picked me up.’
Most pitchers would be happy to “struggle’ like Balint did. In picking up the complete game shutout victory, Balint allowed just two singles, one in the first and one in the fourth. She struck out 13 while walking just one. Balint has allowed just three earned runs all season, and has struck out 177 in 85 innings, while allowing a mere 24 hits.
Since dropping a pair of games to West Chester East earlier in the month, the Red Devils have been hitting on all cylinders. However, Avon Grove still trails the Vikings in the Ches-Mont National Division.
“Both teams are probably just waiting for the other to lose a game,’ said Balint. “But I think we’re playing about as well as we can be right now. We’re hitting better than ever, but still trying to improve offensively. We’d love to be able to repeat as Ches-Mont champs, but if that doesn’t happen, we’ll just have to turn it up in the playoffs.’