Despite Balint’s performance, Avon Grove falls to Perk Valley in district semifinal

DOWNINGTOWN — The international tie-breaker rule didn’t do Maggie Balint and Avon Grove justice.

Same with the result.

In a phenomenal performance in the circle, Balint was her usual-dominant self against undefeated Perkiomen Valley. Unfortunately for her, Avon Grove couldn’t score a run in the first nine innings. The Red Devils paid the price in the 10th.

“It was the fourth time through the batting lineup, they were going to hit me sooner or later,’ Balint said. “We got to hit to win this game and we didn’t do that very well today.’

Due to the international tie-breaker rule, Perkiomen Valley capitalized on its opportunity with a runner at second to start the bottom of the 10th. With Shannon Beattie on third and two outs, Erin Hallahan hit a liner that squeezed between first and second and scored Beattie for the game’s only run as No. 2 Perkiomen Valley defeated No. 6 Avon Grove 1-0 in a 10-inning pitcher’s duel in the District 1 Class AAAA semifinals.

The Vikings (22-0) advance to the district title game against PAC-10 foe Owen J. Roberts, a 6-5 winner over Great Valley in 10 innings, at a site to be determined. The Red Devils (19-4) face the Patriots in the third-place game Thursday, 4 p.m., at West Chester Rustin.

Balint dominated a stout Perkiomen Valley lineup in 9 2/3 innings. She allowed three hits, struck out 14 and walked none on 129 pitches. Her only mistake was the base hit to Hallahan in the tenth that cost Avon Grove the chance to defend its District 1 title.

“Maggie just owned the mound today,’ said Avon Grove head coach Julie Hatfield. “She was firing fire and I couldn’t have asked her to do anything more. She did her job and everything she asked for her.’

“My stuff was really moving today, my rise ball in particular,’ Balint said. “I felt good all day throwing different pitches and never throwing the same stuff to the same batter.

“Through the seventh, I knew we were going to extra innings. We weren’t hitting, they weren’t hitting. Sooner or later this game was going to end on something.’

Perkiomen Valley starter Emily Oltman gave the Avon Grove lineup fits for most of the afternoon. She threw 10 innings, allowed five hits, struck out 10 and walked three on 142 pitches.

The Red Devils had their chance to capitalize on Oltman early, as she was shaky to start the game. Courtney Gall started the game with a 10-pitch walk, but Courtney Coppack’s bunt attempt was caught by Perk Valley third baseman Kelsey Impink. Gall was halfway toward second when the ball was caught. Impink fired the ball to first as Gall was out easily. Balint followed with a single, as the base running blunder cost Avon Grove an opportunity to get the run its starting pitcher needed.

“We have to capitalize in those moments,’ Hatfield said. “Against a team like Perk Valley, you don’t get a second chance. When that doesn’t happen, runs are harder to get. The cards fell where they did after that.’

“Base running skills have been biting us in the butt for a while,’ Balint said. “We’re not going to get away with that in states. Good teams like Perkiomen Valley are going to get us on that. We just have to be more disciplined and smart there.’

Balint mowed through the Vikings lineup in the early innings, retiring the first eight batters (including six straight by strikeout at one point) before allowing a base runner in the bottom of the third. She did not allow a base hit until one out in the fifth, a single to Brenna Serman before retiring Abby Wild and Hallahan on fly outs to end the inning.

Oltman settled in after the first three innings as the Red Devils stranded four runners on base (two in scoring position). She retired eight consecutive hitters before Coppock hit a double in the top of the sixth with one out. Balint hit a grounder to move her over to third for the second out and Alyssa Herion due up.

Herion never got the opportunity to drive Coppock in as a passed ball on the fourth pitch of the at-bat forced Coppock to steal home. Perk Valley catcher Noelle McCullough received a fortunate bounce from the backstop and was able to toss the ball to home for the force out to end the threat.

With runners on first and second and two outs in the ninth, Rachel Butler drilled an Oltman fastball to deep left field, but the Downingtown wind kept the ball in the yard for the third out.

“I thought it was gone,’ Hatfield said. “My runners were going on contact and thought for sure we had two runs once the ball was hit, but today just wasn’t our day.’

The first four batters in the order went 5-for-15 for Avon Grove, providing threats in the first, sixth and ninth. The offense stalled from Butler down, going 0-for-16.

The bottom of the order couldn’t get Butler over from second when the international tiebreaker rule came into effect in the 10th. Perk Valley’s bottom of the order did on one base hit from Hallahan, the No. 8 hitter in the lineup, in the bottom of the inning.

That hit sent the Vikings to the championship game while the Red Devils were left to ponder on a missed opportunity.

“Being the pitcher’s duel that it was, this game was going to come down to who would have the timely hit,’ Hatfield said. “When it comes to international tiebreaker, it really is about execution. We didn’t execute the way we normally do and that hurt us today.’

“Next time we are going to win on that international tiebreaker and that bunt,’ Balint said. “We know how to react to it now. We’ll regroup tonight and soak this one in, but we have bigger goals this year.’

Those goals will be culminated at the PIAA Championship in University Park 16 days from today. With Balint in the circle, Avon Grove has another golden opportunity to get to Penn State.

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