Balint strikes out 24, Avon Grove win in eight

WEST CHESTER — When you put the ball in play, good things will happen. That statement is never truer than in a game where just putting the ball in play is a tall order.

Avon Grove’s Maggie Balint and Henderson’s Megan Butts were both almost unhittable in the circle. Balint made her fielders almost invisible by recording every out by strikeout, while Butts matched her scoreless inning by scoreless inning.

Then with two outs and two on in the top of the eighth, Avon Grove’s Courtney Coppack took an outside fast ball and stroked it into the gap in left-center field to knock in the deciding runs for a 2-0 Ches-Mont League victory Tuesday.

“I just went in thinking that all I needed was one hit,’ said Coppack. “It was extra innings and we need some runs and I wanted to make sure we got them. Always great to start the year with a win.’

Rachel Butler got things going for the Red Devils (1-0) in the eighth, working a one-out walk. She got into scoring position following a wild pitch. After fouling off a number of pitches, Alyssa Herion followed with a walk, making it first and second for Balint, who moved the runners up on a groundout to short, setting the stage for Coppack’s heroics.

“I knew when I made contact that it was going to be good enough to score them both, especially with it being Alyssa on second,’ said Coppack. “The way Maggie was pitching, even one run was going to be good enough.’

The way Balint was pitching was just short of record setting. The junior ace went eight innings for the complete-game victory, recording every single one of the 24 outs via strikeout. She didn’t issue a walk and the lone blemish standing between Balint and a national record of 24 consecutive whiffs in a game, was a two-out triple in the fourth from Julia Cox.

“I really wasn’t sure how today was going to go,’ said Balint. “It was the first time I’d pitched off the mound in a game since last September. But I still had a lot of confidence and we felt good out there.’

All Balint could do was tip her hat to Cox.

“I don’t remember ever facing her before and I think the ball just drifted inside a little more than I wanted and she ripped it,’ said Balint. “It was a really good hit. On a field with a fence, that might have been a home run.’

The Red Devils, like most area teams, haven’t really gotten on the field very often thanks to the recent inclement weather. Avon Grove didn’t get a single scrimmage in, and didn’t even get on the field until Monday.

Though the Red Devils didn’t get on the board until the eighth, they were showing a much more aggressive approach at the plate, taking their cuts and putting the ball in play. The result was runners on board in every inning but the first.

“We know that if we want to be successful this year, we’ve got to hit the ball,’ said Avon Grove coach Julie Hatfield. “You can’t win a game 0-0. You’ve got to put runs up. Anytime you have a pitcher strikeout 24, it’s a blessing. We know we’ve got a strong pitcher in Maggie, but we’ve got to be able to back her up. Right out of the gate, we’ve been making contact, and I’m pleased, especially with how little time we’ve had on the field.’

Though Balint came out on top of the pitcher’s battle, Butts also turned in a laudable performance. She allowed two runs on six hits with 11 strikeouts and two walks.

“Our girls played some great defense today,’ said first-year Henderson coach Erin Ficca. “And Megan pitched a great game. I love calling pitches for Megan — she always hits her spots. It’s just tough because we’ve seen so little live pitching at this point, and to start off against a pitcher like (Balint) was just tough.’

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