TOWAMENCIN >> With one out and two on in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday, Maddy Gronback swung North Penn into the promised land.
On an afternoon where the Knights’ bats were quiet for much of the way, Gronback brought them pumping back to life and into the district quarterfinals, her line-drive shot over the center-field fence sending NP to a 3-0 win over Avon Grove.
“That last at-bat, I really just wanted to provide for my team,” she said. “Everybody did their job today, and even though it didn’t come through the way it usually does right away, we fought hard that game to back up (pitcher) Julia (Shearer). And I just knew, in that moment, with runners in scoring position, I had to do what I had to do.”
Gronback got it done, and the Knights made sure a 16-strikeout, no-hit performance by Shearer earned a ‘W,’ as No. 3 NP advances to a Friday contest against either Hatboro-Horsham or Neshaminy in the District 1-6A Quarters.
Said Gronback of the walk-off homer: “l was ecstatic. I only had one other home run this season so that just felt amazing.”
The senior right fielder came through in the clutch against Red Devils starter Payton Hale, who had kept the high-powered NP offense scoreless up until that point.
“That’s what happens with good teams. They fight, they fight, they fight, and (Avon Grove) fought just as hard as we did,” said Knights coach Rick Torresani, who guided the team to a state title a season ago and has them one win from states this season. “Maddy worked so hard to get to where she’s at. She’s a strong girl, and if she gets a hold of one, that’s what happens.”
Brie Wilmot kick-started the inning by drawing a walk after a 10-pitch at-bat. Gianna Cimino came through with a hard-hit, infield single and the Knights were in business.
After Sophia Collins’ sacrifice bunt moved the runners over, Gronback battled to a 2-2 count and then slammed it deep to center.
“Sophia Collins and I talked before the game, and we said this wasn’t gonna be our last game,” Gronback said.
Shearer was in control from start to finish.
The lefty had 14 strikeouts in the first five innings (14 of 15 possible outs), and added two more in the final two frames. She had no walks and just one hit batter (Cait Long).
“She was hitting her spots. She was right on,” Torresani said. “Anything I asked her to throw, she threw. She was just right on and she was throwing hard.”
Shearer retired 10 straight leading into North Penn’s winning seventh.
“I was hitting the outside corner and they didn’t seem to adjust to it. And later in the counts, I went to my change-up, just to keep them off balance,” said Shearer.
“(Hale) did a really good job of getting ahead of us (in the count). Brie had an amazing at-bat. It just kept getting me more and more hyped as it went on. As soon as that hit went off (Gronback’s) bat, I knew it.”
The No. 14 Red Devils return all but two starters next season.
“It was a great game. (Hale) went out there and did what she does every game,” coach Andria Pannell said. “We couldn’t back her up with the bats but they have a heck of a pitcher. Great season. We lose two senior starters (Taylor Morris and Cait Long), which is gonna hurt a little bit, but they brought up the younger girls and they’ll be ready to fill roles.”
District 1-6A Second Round
North Penn 3, Avon Grove 0
#14 Avon Grove 000 000 0 – 0 0 0
#3 North Penn 000 000 3 – 3 4 0
WP: Julia Shearer (7IP, 0R, 0H, 16K, 1BB, 1HBP).
LP: Payton Hale (61/3+IP, 3R, 3ER, 4H, 8K, 2BB).
HR: NP-Maddy Gronback.