UPPER PROVIDENCE >> After watching her hit sail over the center-field fence, Julia Shearer could not hold in her excitement.
“Off the bat I had no idea where it was going and then I saw it went just over the fence, I was screaming around the bases,” the North Penn junior said. “To put us ahead like that, it really meant something to me.”
After top-seeded Pennsbury jumped out to a 1-0 lead in Thursday afternoon’s District 1-6A softball championship game, the Knights answered with a pair of solo home runs – Gianna Cimino tying it in the second with Shearer’s shot putting No. 3 North Penn up 2-1.
“G’s home run, you could see it, it set them right down,” Knights coach Rick Torresani said. “They had to work for theirs, she comes up and puts it whatever that is out there. And then Julia hits one over.”
It was still a one-run North Penn lead when weather halted the contest at the end of sixth inning. But when play resumed in the top of the seventh, the Knights produced three insurance runs and held on to secure their first district title in a decade with a 5-2 victory at Spring-Ford.
#SOFTBALL: Final District 1-6A Championship (3) @northpennsb22 5, (1) Pennsbury 2. Knights plate 3 T7, Falcons get 1 B7 but North Penn holds on for 1st district title since 2012. pic.twitter.com/VY1cbtn89i
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) June 2, 2022
“It means a lot,” Torresani said. “It means a lot for the kids for their hard work, it means a lot to me as a coach because that’s what we want to do. We had three goals, we know what those three goals are and that’s two of them down.”
Shearer finished 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored while the Maryland commit also struck out 10 in pitching a complete game as North Penn (23-1), the defending PIAA champion, earned its first District 1 crown since winning the 2012 Class 4A title. The Knights had lost in their two previous district final appearances in 2014 and 2019.
North Penn also avenged its lone defeat of 2022 after the Falcons (22-2) won their first meeting 5-4 in nine innings at North Penn April 29.
“Coming into this knowing that they were the only ones that had beaten us, we said it’s payback time,” Shearer said. “We wanted to come back and just do to them what they did to us and I think we were pretty successful in that.”
North Penn, which has won its last 11, begins the state 6A tournament Monday against District 11 runner-up Whitehall.
“I feel great going into states,” Cimino said. “I feel like we’re going to do really good if we just keep playing North Penn softball.”
Pennsbury, which had a 14-game win streak snapped as it was denied its first district title since 2007, takes on District 3 runner-up Manheim Township in the PIAA first round.
“We knew it was going to be a close game,” Falcons coach Frank McSherry said. “It’s a one-run game up until the seventh inning. Two good teams, two good pitchers, two good hitting teams and they had a bigger inning than we had, that’s what it came down to.”
Shearer allowed two runs – both earned – on six hits and two walks over her seven innings in the circle.
“After the first inning, I didn’t know what was going to go, how it was going to go but I started to settle in as the game went on,” she said. “And I started to get really comfortable with everything that I was throwing.”
Pennsbury starting pitcher Ainsley McClure took the loss in a complete-game effort, giving up five runs – all earned – on six hits. She walked three and struck out seven.
“Ainsley’s pitched like Ainsley’s pitched all year,” McSherry said.
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) June 2, 2022
The Falcons took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Quinn McGonigle hit a one-out single, stole second then scored as Sam Raub dropped a two-out RBI single into left field.
Cimino answered for the Knights with one out in the top of the second, belting a solo homer to left to knot things 1-1.
“I knew she was going to throw me a high pitch for the first pitch because that’s how she got me last time,” Cimino said. “But I was just looking for my pitch and I just took it.”
Shearer connected on her go-ahead solo blast to center with two outs in the third.
“Going into this we had a plan we knew what she was going to throw to us and as the game went on we worked with that,” Shearer said. “As for me, my first at-bat did not go well and I adjusted – I adjusted, I knew what was coming and I just sat on it and it worked.”
Rowan Mulholland led off the Pennsbury half of the fourth with a single then went to second on a Raub sacrifice bunt. But Shearer stranded her there with a strikeout and a groundout back to the pitcher.
With two outs in the top of the fifth, Reyna Doherty singled then advanced to third as Shearer’s pop-up fell in the middle of the infield for a base hit. Shearer stole second before Sarah Sabocsik walked to load the bases but McClure struck out the next batter to keep the Falcons down 2-1.
After Shearer collected a strikeout to end the sixth and strand a runner on second, a lightning delay halted the game with rain then rolling through the area. But the weather cleared and when the matchup resumed in the seventh, the Knights proceeded to stretch their lead to four.
“It really didn’t affect us,” said Shearer of the delay. “I think we came out hotter than we started and during the delay we were saying ‘We want to end this now, we want to end this now,’ and that’s exactly what we did.”
Doherty drew a one-out walk with Shearer following by lining a single into left. Sabocsik singled up the middle to bring home Doherty to make it 3-1. Shearer went to third on the hit while Sabocsik advanced to second on the play.
Annabelle Smink’s RBI sacrifice fly to right scored Shearer while Sabocsik, who advanced to third on the sac fly, came home on a wild pitch for a 5-1 Knights advantage.
“I said to the coaches, I said that I’m glad we’re not out on the field,” Torresani said. “It’s always tough for the pitcher and the fielders after it rained and then to go out. We got a chance to hit and you saw what happened. I think it hurt them more than it hurt us. It hurt Julia in the first couple batters but then it hurt them more than it hurt us.”
Presley Foote’s RBI infield single cut Pennsbury’s deficit to 5-2 and gave the Falcons runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the seventh. But a force out at third on a fielder’s choice then a groundout to second sealed the district crown for North Penn.
“Honestly, I wasn’t really warmed up as good as I should have been,” said Shearer of the seventh. “But I trusted my defense, I was working with it and it ended up working in our favor.”
NOTES >> On the game’s first at-bat Pennsbury shortstop Cait Martell was hit in the hand swinging at a pitch but the Shippensburg commit played the rest of the contest. “I had her in Carpenter Cup, I love her to death,” said Torresani of Martell. “She gutted it out, did everything she possibly could to help her team.”… North Penn is making its fourth consecutive PIAA postseason, reaching the quarters in 2018 and 2019 and winning state gold in 2021. Pennsbury qualified for its third straight PIAA tournament, advancing to the semifinals last season.
North Penn 5, Pennsbury 2
North Penn 011 000 3 – 5 6 0
Pennsbury 100 000 1 – 2 6 1
WP: Julia Shearer 7 IP 6 H 2 R 2 ER 2 BB 10 SO.
LP: Ainsley McClure 7 IP 6 H 5 R 5 ER 3 BB 7 SO.
HR: NP-Shearer, Gianna Cimino.
North Penn: Shearer 3-4, RBI, 2 R.