DOWNINGTOWN >> There’s not much you can do to get ready for a fireball pitcher like Bishop Shanahan’s Devon Miller, the Class 5A player of the year by the Pennsylvania High School Softball Association.
Shortening the distance between the pitching machine and the batter’s box might not be enough to simulate the sheer power of Miller, who hurled a one-hitter with 17 strikeouts to lift the Eagles to a 1-0 win over Penncrest in a District 1 Class 5A semifinal.
“Our batting machines don’t go that fast so I think it was kind of a wakeup call kind of thing,” Lions catcher Brett Gavin said. “We haven’t been seeing that through the season, at least not recently. She’s definitely one of the best pitchers we’ve seen all season. We haven’t played one like her in a while.”
The Lions (16-7) showed their toughness staring down Miller’s fastball for five innings. And they gave themselves a chance to go ahead in the sixth. Julia Eckels reached on an infield single and Melody Gleason was hit by a pitch.
Faster than Gleason could say, ouch, Miller punched out three straight batters to retire the side. Though Kira Sbandi drew a two-out walk for the Lions in the final frame, Miller again struck out the side to give the Eagles (17-5) a chance to win a district championship.
“I was like, I’ve got to do this,” said Miller, who scattered four walks. “I cannot give them anything to hit. This is a big win. Last year we lost in the semis in the districts. Shanahan has never won the district championship in the history of softball so that’s my goal. Especially being a junior, I really want that championship. And we’re going to fight hard for it.”
Shanahan opposes Interboro, a 5-4 winner over West Chester Henderson in the other semi Friday, for the district championship Tuesday at Immaculata. Penncrest hosts Henderson, also Tuesday, in a seeding game for the state tournament.
By then it should all start sinking in for the Lions, who have come a long way under second-year coach Jamie Mingis, who starred in softball at Garnet Valley High and played at East Stroudsburg.
“We’re a young group,” Mingis said. “We haven’t been here so this is exciting all around. This is definitely going to put perspective as to what we see moving forward.”
The Lions aren’t content just reaching states for the first time in 13 years ago. Pitcher Maya Hartman, the school’s all-time strikeouts leader, has proven she’s strong enough to keep her team in games against the likes of Miller. Hartman struck out seven and scattered seven hits Friday. The Eagles got their run in the second inning on a throwing error.
In the third inning, the Eagles gave Hartman a couple of long at-bats, including a 15-pitch appearance by Anne Weyand, who eventually singled.
“Oh, my goodness,” Hartman said. “I was trying to get her on the rise and she kept fouling them off.”
On those hornery occasions, Gavin reads Hartman, then mixes in another pitch. Even that didn’t help.
“If I call a pitch Maya doesn’t like, she’ll shake me off,” Hartman said. “She’s very consistent. If she finds a pitch that a girl continues to foul off she realizes that that should be thrown for a while. I kept calling for rises and she kept fouling them off. And then I tried curves and she fouled them off.”
If Hartman was tired late in the game, she didn’t show it. She slammed the door on the Eagles in the fifth and sixth innings, punching out the last batter in each frame to keep the Lions in the game.
The biggest problem for the Lions continues to be a sluggish offense, although Miller had something to do with that.
“We’ve definitely waited until later in the game to get started,” Hartman said. “I think today if we had gotten a few more hits, a couple more baserunners across and it could have been different.”
“Once we start hitting we pick each other up and it continues through the lineup,” Gavin said. “If we had made more contact with the ball, things could have happened differently.”