ROYERSFORD >> A five-run lead going into the seventh inning felt more than comfortable for the North Penn softball team with the way Julia Shearer was pitching Thursday afternoon.
The late drama in the District 1-6A final came from Shearer’s bid for perfection, which hung in the balance as the left-hander delivered a 3-2 pitch to Haverford’s Kylie Ingram.
“I was just trying to throw something hard to get her to be late on it,” Shearer said. “I mean, I was just throwing strikes – if she hit it, she hit it but I’d rather let her get a hit or groundout or something than walk her.”
Ingram swung and missed on Shearer’s offering and the Knights stellar senior followed by striking out the next two batters, completing a perfect game as top-seeded North Penn claimed its second straight district championship with a 5-0 victory over the No. 10 Fords at Spring-Ford.
“It’s unbelievable what the kid can do,” Knights coach Rick Torresani said. “She was on fire today. Everything was working.”
Shearer struck out 16 – pushing her season total to 305 – and did not have a ball leave the infield. She also scored the first run as North Penn (24-0) broke through with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third then tacked on its final three in the sixth.
“I knew that I was throwing a no-hitter probably halfway through the game,” Shearer said. “But the sixth inning after we went 1-2-3 the top of the sixth, I was like ‘OK I have to lock in the seventh inning, I know it’s coming, I don’t want to jinx myself or mess it up in any way.
“That first batter in the seventh inning I got a little nervous cause the count went full but I managed to get through it.”
Gianna Cimino went 2-for-3 with a double and run scored while Annabelle Smink was 2-for-2 for the Knights, who became the first team to repeat as district champ in PIAA’s largest class since 2007 when Pennsbury won the last of eight straight titles.
“It’s awesome,” said NP senior shortstop Annabelle Smink. “It’s an accomplishment, completely. We did it as a team again and I’m just happy.”
Having now secured Suburban One League Colonial Division and District 1 titles, the Knights set their sights on earning a second state championship in three seasons. North Penn opens the PIAA-6A tournament Monday against District 3’s fourth-place finisher Governor Mifflin.
“That’s just another thing that this team has done but they also know that they’re not done yet,” Torresani said. “They want to continue on and hopefully get another trophy.”
Shearer, who in Tuesday’s 3-2 10-inning semifinal win over Plymouth Whitemarsh allowed more than a run for only the second time this season, began Thursday with consecutive strikeouts then ended the top of the first with a groundout back to her.
“I think I surprised them the first inning,” Shearer said. “So after that I was really confident. I knew that I had the upper hand and as the game went on I became more and more confident in myself cause that’s a good-hitting team but I don’t know, I was just working through it.”
The Maryland commit – who was named 2022 Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year – struck out the side in both the second and third. Shearer extended the strikeout streak to eight before the fourth finished with a groundout to third on a bunt attempt.
“I think the key was mixing it up,” Shearer said. I was throwing a lot of curves, a lot of changeups obviously. Sometimes I would go out of the zone with two strikes to get ‘em to chase. I was just pitching around their bats and that worked out for me.”
The lefty started the fifth with a strikeout with groundouts to third and first – the latter on a bunt try – making it 15 up and 15 down.
“I was just trying to produce groundballs, honestly,” Shearer said. “That was my mentality – let them hit it, let my defense work cause that’s what worked last game. But honestly as I started, I realized they couldn’t catch up to it or they weren’t seeing the changeup, I was just thinking strikeout, strikeout.
“And the fact that it’s a district game, I mean it doesn’t change the way I play but the meaning of it is so much more, especially for seeding in states.”
In the sixth, Haverford took one more stab at reaching on a bunt but first baseman Brie Wilmot fielded it cleanly and threw to first in time.
Consecutive strikeouts kept the perfect game intact heading to the seventh, where Ingram worked a full count before Shearer got her to swing for the third strike. Two more strikeouts finished Shearer’s sensational title-game performance.
“It’s nice but that’s not our goal,” Shearer said. “Our goal is to get to the state championship. Like I said, it put us in a good place going forward so it feels good to win, it’s good for our school, it’s good to, I don’t know, show it off, whatever but it’s just another game.”
Haverford starting pitcher Lucy Wolf took the loss in a complete-game effort, allowing five runs – three earned – on seven hits. She walked two and struck out two.
“She had nice spin, she did and she was keeping it in and out and just working us,” said Smink of Wolf. “She did a good job.”
The Fords (20-5), who split a pair of postseason games with North Penn in 2021 – winning 5-0 in the district quarterfinals before falling 11-0 in the PIAA final – faces District 11 runner-up Easton in the opening round of states.
Shearer did not have a hit but scored the game’s first run after drawing a one-out walk in the bottom of the third After a Sarah Sabocsik bunt single put two runners on, Smink followed with another bunt and reached on an error that allowed Shearer to come home.
“I just ran as fast as I can,” Smink said. “I was not really paying attention to where the ball was being thrown. And then I realized that the ball eventually went (past first) and then all right, Julia scored then.”
Sabocsik, who advanced to third on the play, scored to make it 2-0 Knights on Wilmot’s RBI sacrifice fly to right.
North Penn pushed its advantage to five in the bottom of the sixth. Cimino led off with a double to left center. Sophia Orth followed by dropping a single into center while Bella Nunn’s RBI single to left scored Cimino.
A Casey Sokol RBI groundout made it 4-0 with Reyna Doherty bringing in the Knights’ final run on her sacrifice squeeze bunt.
District 1-6A Final
(1) North Penn 5, (10) Haverford 0
Haverford 000 000 0 — 0 0 1
North Penn 002 003 x — 5 7 0
WP: Julia Shearer 7 IP 0 H 0 R 0 ER 0 BB 16 SO.
LP: Lucy Wolf 6 IP 7 H 5 R 3 ER 2 BB 2 SO.
2B: NP-Gianna Cimino.
North Penn: Cimino 2-3, R; Annabelle Smink 2-2.