NEWTOWN SQUARE>>Over the course of the 2023 season, the hard-hitting Oxford softball team rarely found itself in the situation they faced today—they trailed after two innings. But the No. 3 Hornets (20-3) spotted their Ches-Mont American rival, No. 5 Rustin (16-8), a 2-0 lead, before battling back with a big third inning, and then cruising to a convincing 8-5 victory to capture the District 1, Class 5A championship Tuesday afternoon at Marple-Newtown High School.
Oxford’s district title was the first in program history, and the first District 1 championship in any sport at Oxford since the baseball team won in 2007.
“I’ve been a part of three district championships at Oxford as an assistant coach in basketball, and for baseball in 2007,” said Oxford coach Josh Socash. “But this one, coming as head coach, with the work we’ve all put in, the girls especially, means so much. For the last two years, these girls have been absolutely committed to this team. I couldn’t be happier to see all their work pay off, or more proud of them.”
The two teams split the regular season series, and then each dominated their district playoff foes to set up a re-match of last year’s District 1 championship game, won by Rustin 7-6.
“I was so heartbroken when we lost last year,” said Oxford pitcher Cece Figueroa. “We made it a point to come back here and win a district title. This means so much to me.”
The Golden Knights got off to a fast start, with the speedy Jenna Kraft (4 for 4, 3 R, 2RBI) led off the game by beating out an infield single. Kraft moved over to third on a single from Paige Bentley, then scored on a bunt single from Taylor Kuhn. Kraft made it 2-0 after two with an RBI single to knock in Olivia Shuffler.
Undaunted, the Hornets simply went to work. Natalia Donofrio got things going, leading off the bottom of the third with a single up the middle, and moving up sixty feet on a sacrifice bunt from Emily Basilio, and scoring on a single from Ashley Flynn (2 for 4, 2B. 2R, 2RBI).
Up next was McKenna Frank (2 for 4, 2B, 2R, RBI), who started a trend with a double to the gap in left center. Molly Friel followed, knocking in Flynn with a double of her own, then Figueroa capped the doubles parade, drilling a shot off the top part of the fence in left center, driving in Frank and Friel.
“We never had any doubt we were going to come back,” said Figueroa, who finished the day a perfect 3 for 3, with 2 doubles, three runs batted in, a run scored, and reached safely on a walk in her first plate appearance. “We didn’t panic at all, because we all knew we would just have to start stringing together hits, and that’s what we did.”
Rustin knotted it at 4-4 in the top of the fourth, with Kraft stroking a double to score Shuffler, and coming all the way around to score on a two-base error in the effort to get Shuffler at third.
Then it was Figueroa’s turn again. Leading off the Hornet fifth, Figueroa beat out a bunt, and moved over to third on a pair of wild pitches. Up came Grace Allen, who made several fantastic defensive plays at second base, and she contributed to the offense, bringing Figueroa home with a bunt single.
Oxford put the game away with a three run sixth, highlighted by RBI doubles from Flynn and Figueroa, and an RBI single from Frank, to make it 8-4 headed to the final stanza. Rustin scored once more in the seventh, with Bentley knocking in Kraft, but that would be as close as they got.
“We kept the energy up in the dugout all game,” said Flynn. “Getting those runs in the sixth, we all just knew it kind of sealed the deal. This just feels so good. We’ve kind of been on a revenge tour all year. Winning the district championship feels amazing.”
Figueroa picked up the win in the circle, allowing five runs—four earned—on ten hits. She struck out one, and walked three.
Oxford gets its state tournament underway next Monday, when, in round one, they will host the winner of Greencastle and Solanco, who square off in the District 3 third-place game on Thursday.
“We can’t wait to play in the state tournament again,” said Figueroa. “I’m so excited we’re going to get to host a game, and if we keep hitting like we have, we’re going to be playing at Penn State in the finals, and that’s where I’m going to be in the fall.”
Rustin will simply put the loss behind them and get focused on their own journey through the state tourney. The Golden Knights will be on the road, traveling to the Lehigh Valley where they will face the yet-to-be-determined District 11 champ.
“We came in as a five seed, then had to go on the road and beat two higher seeds,” said Rustin coach Dennis Becker. “No one expected us to be here. This was a great game, and that is a very good Oxford team. Josh (Socash) does a great job coaching and motivating , and they played great today. But we’ll get back to work and get back after it Monday.”