Surprising North Penn is district champ

Posted: June 01, 2012

North Penn softball coach Rick Torresani could hardly recall what happened in the sixth inning of Thursday's District 1 Class AAAA championship game, let alone explain it.

The statistics produced by Kate Poppe's 26-inning tear through the playoffs for Bishop Shanahan were daunting enough - through Tuesday's fifth inning, she had struck out 52 and allowed six hits and one run in four tournament games.

But the swings Torresani saw from the third-base coaching box - feeble hack after feeble hack at Poppe's 65-m.p.h., now-you-see-it, now-you-don't fastball - made Shanahan's 1-0 lead seem insurmountable.

And then, seemingly in an instant, Torresani heard the familiar ping of bat on ball, and No. 3 hitter Alexa Gable's blast was sailing over the leftfielder. The triple turned the tide in a heart-pounding game that North Penn ultimately won, 2-1.

"It's just unbelievab le," Torresani said. "When you're on this kind of roll, you dream about it as a coach. You dream about having kids like this who just never stop wanting it."

Nothing could have forecast the Maidens' sixth-inning rally, just as nothing had forecast their ride from No. 10 seed to the district title.

The details that escaped their coach's mind amid the celebration after the game begin with catcher Jess Mower's leadoff single to left field.

To that point, it was the third hit allowed by Poppe. All three hits were bloopers that dropped into no-man's land between the infield and outfield.

Nineteen North Penn hitters had stepped to the plate, and 13 had struck out, many chasing fastballs up and out of the strike zone.

"It looked like it was coming in perfect," Mower said of Poppe's riser, "and then it would sneak up."

Mower was forced out at second on a bunt by No. 2 hitter Erin Maher, who advanced to second on a wild pitch.

With a two-strike count, Gable said she stepped into the batter's box expecting a riser. The ball never rose - it stayed right where Gable could hit it.

"It was incredible," she said of her RBI triple. "I didn't think it was over her head, but after I saw it go over her head, I was so happy."

The next batter, junior Michele Holweger, popped up to second, but Eagles second baseman Kathleen Devaney collided with rightfielder Marisa Giordano, and the ball popped free. Gable took off from third and beat the throw home by a step.

"We can't lean on [Poppe] forever, for every little thing," said Shanahan coach Ron Savastio, who was surprised at how frequently North Penn pulled the ball.

The Maidens (18-7) leaned on unflappable freshman Jackie Bilotti in the circle. Bilotti guided the underdog Maidens through 23d seed Ridley, seventh seed Downingtown West, 18th seed Central Bucks East, sixth seed Central Bucks South, and finally fifth-seeded Shanahan (21-4), and into the school's first state-playoff appearance in 27 years.

"She's not a Poppe. She doesn't throw 65 miles per hours," Torresani said of Bilotti, who gave up three hits and struck out three. "But she spots the ball and keeps the batters off balance."

North Penn   0000020 - 252

Bishop Shanahan   1000000 - 131

WP: Jackie Bilotti. LP: Kate Poppe. 3B: NP-Alexa Gable; BS-Alyssa Lewis.


Contact Brian Kotloff at rallysports@phillynews.com.

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