May 21—ORWIGSBURG — "Cherish the moment."
It's a phrase North Schuylkill coach Dominick Grasso recalled from his coaching days 15 years ago. Still appropriate today in an uncertain COVID-19 world, Grasso brought those three words to his team. The Spartans embraced them, they put the motto on the back of a shirt, and after missing the 2020 season, they cherished every moment on the softball field this spring.
Now, the Spartans made a moment they'll cherish forever, slugging their way past Pine Grove 9-2 on Thursday in the Schuylkill League softball championship game at Blue Mountain's Patton Field.
"The girls are amazing," Grasso said. "They stepped up big time. We were down again. That's our key. When we get down, we push right back. I've been saying it all year. We got shirts made that say 'Cherish the moment.' That's what they're doing right now.
"At the end of practice I always say, 'Hey, we cherish the moment,' " Grasso added. "That's what we do."
The Schuylkill League title is the first for North Schuylkill (17-5) since league officials brought back the playoffs in 2009. Pine Grove (15-7) saw its bid for a fourth straight league title end in defeat.
Senior center fielder Violet Ryan smacked two triples, a three-run, inside-the-park home run, scored three times and finished with four RBIs to power the North Schuylkill attack. In three games against Pine Grove this season, the Spartans scored a total of 28 runs.
"I feel amazing," Ryan said. "We worked so hard for this, and I couldn't ask for anything more. I'm so grateful for this team. This is why I wake up every day, to play with this team. We have such a great group of girls. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Early on, the game shaped up like the expected battle between the top two teams in Division I of the Schuylkill League.
Back and forth they went: You threaten, we threaten. You score, we score.
Pine Grove used traditional softball to strike first with a run in the top of the second inning. Emily Fisher worked a leadoff walk; Makenzie Daubert bunted her into scoring position; and Faith Wolff delivered an RBI single.
North Schuylkill answered in the third inning, and again a leadoff walk cost plenty. No. 9 batter Morgan Koutch worked a free pass, and Violet Ryan roped a triple to right-center to tie the game 1-1.
Nobody goes home to third better or faster than Ryan, who went in standing up with a fist pump in celebration. One out later, Ryan raced home on a wild pitch to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.
Pine Grove went short game to tie the game 2-2 in the top of the fourth. Daubert led off with a single, and flex Taylor Donmoyer entered as a pinch-runner. Donmoyer stole second, took third on an error and scored on Wolff's squeeze bunt.
It took North Schuylkill exactly one pitch in the bottom of the fourth to regain the lead, 3-2. Johannah Taylor blasted the first delivery over the center-field fence for a solo homer that put the Spartans ahead to stay and ignited their offense.
When it was over, 10 batters had come to the plate, and North Schuylkill had a six-run inning on five hits and three costly Pine Grove errors. Abby Kuzio laced an RBI single, and Ryan lined a three-run, inside-the-park home run. Ryan's shot to right field hit the turf just beyond the glove a charging outfielder, and Ryan circled the bases to make it 7-2. Another run scored on an error to put the Spartans up by six with nine outs to go.
North Schuylkill added a run in the sixth inning to extend its lead to 9-2. Ryan tripled for the second time to right field. Senior first baseman Joslin Stitzer, who leads the area with eight home runs, dropped a perfect safety squeeze bunt for the RBI.
All that run support proved to be plenty for winning pitcher Morgan Dinger. The sophomore right-hander handled the big occasion like a seasoned veteran in front of a huge crowd.
After Pine Grove went ahead in the fourth inning, Dinger slammed the door by retiring 12 of the final 13 batters she faced. Dinger finished with a five-hitter and allowed just one earned run. She struck out two, walked two and got outstanding defensive play from third baseman Shaina DeAngelo, shortstop Maddie Hall and catcher Taylor.
"I'm just super-proud of my team. I just can't believe we really did this," Stitzer said. "All of our hard work in the offseason and now, it really paid off. I love every single one of them.
"We just get along so good together. We work so good together as a team," Stitzer added. "We work as one, and everything that we do is not for yourself but for everyone."
The win was the third straight for North Schuylkill over Pine Grove this season. The Spartans swept the season series in the league 10-1 and 9-4. It's possible the teams could meet a fourth time in the District 11 Class 3A playoffs.
"Anybody can beat anybody at any time in the Schuylkill League," Grasso said. "Winning the division and winning this is something special."
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-628-6012: @boblipskyRH on Twitter