"It's been pretty effective," senior shortstop Alie Alkins said, "so I guess we're doing something right."
Alkins and third-year coach Jerome Lewis pointed to the team's meticulous routine as the reason behind its success, which includes an 11-game winning streak, a Ches-Mont American League title, and a 21-3 record.
Repeating the same practices over and over makes a nerve-racking game feel more normal, more natural, Alkins said. It's the same way the Vanguards' outstanding infield defense was built through practice day-in and day-out.
"When we got knocked out of districts [in the semifinals] last year, we made two errors, and they cost us the game," Lewis said. "We haven't been making those mistakes this year."
Instead, they have forced opponents into making those mistakes. They hit 11 home runs this season, but their most significant runs have emerged out of pure desperation.
In the late innings of both the district quarterfinals and semifinals, Sun Valley scored the decisive runs on errors plus walks, bunts, and clutch hits. The team has won four extra-inning games this season.
There is no secret to the success: "Persistence," Lewis said. "They never let up."
The way Alkins explained it, the Vanguards are so wrapped up in their exhilarating ride to the state playoffs, they have yet to comprehend their accomplishments.
Administrators make announcements about the team over the school loudspeaker. Students seek out players in the hall to offer their congratulations - "like we're royalty," Alkins said. Even their Twitter accounts have attracted more followers.
"It's basically been surreal," said Alkins, who is hitting .427 with 16 walks and just three strikeouts this season.
Sun Valley faces Greencastle Antrim on Monday as the No. 1 seed in the Class AAA tournament. District 1 runner-up Springfield (Delco) plays Manheim Central.
Five District 1 Class AAAA teams this year - North Penn, Bishop Shanahan, Central Bucks South, Pennsbury, and Hatboro-Horsham - qualify for states, while just one qualifies from Classes AA and A this year: Christopher Dock and Bristol.
Anatomy of an underdog. Much of North Penn's ascent from third place in the Suburban One Continental League to first place in District 1 defied explanation.
The opposing pitcher, Bishop Shanahan's Kate Poppe, had allowed one run in 26 playoff innings heading into the sixth inning of Friday's title game. The Maidens scored two runs in that inning en route to a 2-1 victory.
But while the turnaround seemed to come out of nowhere, the seeds were planted months before the game took place.
The story begins with North Penn's similarly improbable run to the district finals in another sport: girls' basketball.
When the No. 9-seeded Maidens qualified for states, their season stretched into the middle of March. That meant the four softball players who also play basketball, including starting pitcher Vicky Tumasz and starting centerfielder Erin Maher, could not join the team until weeks into softball season.
Then Tumasz, a senior, suffered a pulled hamstring shortly after games began at the end of March. Freshman Jackie Bilotti, also on the basketball team, became the team's go-to pitcher. By the district tournament in May, Bilotti was a star - she pitched all 35 playoff innings, allowing six runs - and the Maidens' lineup fell into place.
"It just took us up until three-quarters of the season when we finally said, 'This is it. This is what we're going with,' " coach Rick Torresani said. "That's when we got hot."
North Penn won eight of its last nine games to set up Monday's state playoff matchup with Lower Dauphin.
Torresani singled out May 10 as the turning point. That day, the team came back from trailing, 9-0, to beat Souderton, 10-9. The walk-off home run came off the bat of junior Alexa Gable, the same hitter who slugged a triple off of Poppe in Friday's sixth inning.
Catcher Jess Mower, the team's lone senior, said that the power pitchers the Maidens faced in the Suburban League prepared them to hit Poppe's 60-plus-m.p.h. heat.
"In their minds, they knew that they were going to come through and get a couple of runs somehow, someway," Torresani said. "That's the way it's been all year."
Contact Brian Kotloff at email@example.com.