Kirby Groves and Lauren Rossi are wearing a title few Pennsbury softball players have ever worn.
They are captains in a program that has never had captains under coach Frank McSherry, and it takes no time at all to figure out why they have earned that distinction.
When the young and inexperienced Falcons need a big play, Groves and Rossi deliver. When they need a calming presence, they need look no further than their senior stars.
While Groves is heading to Seton Hall on a softball scholarship, Rossi will be taking her talents to Penn State. Make no mistake about it – these players are every bit as big-time as their resumes suggest.
“We have never had captains in our lives at Pennsbury,” McSherry said. “We asked those two to be our captains. We felt they deserved it, and they could lead by example.
“They’ve done a great job. Big players come up big when it’s big time.”
Tuesday’s game against undefeated Neshaminy certainly fit under the category of ‘big-time,’ and both came up huge. Rossi delivered a relay throw to the plate for an out in the first inning that set the tone for the Falcons’ defensive effort, and the golden glove shortstop made all the plays, including several that few high school shortstops could have made deep in the third base hole. She also had a two-out single in the third inning to drive in the tying run.
What sets Rossi apart?
“Her hand-eye coordination,” McSherry said. “There’s only one other kid that we’ve had here at Pennsbury that has had the hand-eye coordination she has, and that’s Kat Welch, who’s a senior at Princeton.
“I didn’t think we would ever see a kid with hand-eye coordination like Kat had, and then Lauren comes along for four years.”
Rossi has been the number one singles player on Pennsbury’s tennis team in each of the last two years.
“Being a tennis player, she has balls hit at her at a 100 MPH, and she’s returning them,” McSherry said. “If you can do that, you can catch a ground ball and you can hit a 63 MPH fastball.”
Groves anchors the right side of the infield for the Falcons, and the power-hitting cleanup hitter delivered a two-run double to all but seal the Redskins’ fate in a three-run fifth.
“Kirby’s like a student of the game,” McSherry said. “She studies things on her own, she works hard at what she does well.
“She has a great glove, and she puts the team first. There’s nothing more she wanted to do than play third base this year. She’s waited for Jess Rhodunda to be out of there and move over to third base. I said, ‘Kirb, you’re the best first baseman we have. You know how many balls you get at first base compared to third base? You might get three an inning. A third baseman might get one every three innings.’
“I said, ‘You’re the best. You’re going to steal some outs for us.’ We know where she’d like to be, and she’ll probably play third base in college, but they better have a pretty good first baseman if they’re putting her there because, man, can she play first.”
Groves chose Seton Hall from a final list that included Pitt, Providence, Fordham and Drexel, and she admits signing with Fordham was the culmination of a dream.
“I play on a travel team (Pennsbury Gems) that travels across the country,” Groves said. “We travel to all the best tournaments and college showcases where college scouts come and watch you play. That’s what we do all summer.
“Seton Hall came and watched me a lot. I took a visit to their school, and I really liked it. I have always wanted to play college softball, and I always wanted to play at the highest level. I have worked so hard for it, and I’m really excited to go.”
Rossi chose Penn State from a final list that included Penn, Columbia and Villanova.
“I was looking at a lot of schools that were smaller, but I just ended up with Penn State because it was a great school academically, and it’s a Big 10 sport,” she said. “It’s really amazing.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’m excited to play for them. I know how good they are, so I’m excited.”
For now, Groves and Rossi will anchor a young Falcon squad that is off to quite a start.
Ghosts stun Falcons – Twenty-four hours removed from their emotional win over Neshaminy, the Pennsbury Falcons were stunned by Abington on their home field, falling 4-3 on Wednesday.
Few people saw that one coming, especially after the Ghosts lost to William Tennent 4-1 on Monday and fell to Souderton 5-3 on Tuesday in the resumption of a suspended game.
“Going in against Pennsbury, we were like, ‘You know what – we’re laying everything on the line. We’ll play our hearts out, play the best game we can, and maybe we’ll end up with the win,’” coach Ellie White said.
The last Abington win over Pennsbury came in 1999, also on Pennsbury’s home field. The Ghosts won that game 1-0 on a solo home run by Erika Lee, who is now an assistant coach at Hatboro-Horsham and plays softball on White’s fast pitch team during the summer.
“They didn’t have a fence, and their left fielder dove for it and just missed it, and she ended up scoring,” White said.
In Wednesday’s win, the Ghosts, according to White, took advantage of some free passes.
“My kids had great discipline at the plate,” she said. “We took the walks, we put the ball in play, and we had some big hits when we needed them.”
Leadoff batter Kelly Gregorio, who had a double, was once again in the middle of the action, scoring three of Abington’s four runs.
The Ghosts put a run on the board in the first, thanks to Ali Muehlbronner’s RBI double to the fence in left center.
They broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh.
Gregorio led off with a walk and stole second. Tegan Wendell’s pop fly was misplayed, and after Wendell stole second, Muehlbronner was walked intentionally. Jess Touton hit a slow roller between the pitcher and first, and Gregorio beat the throw to the plate.
Wendell retired the Falcons’ two, three and four batters in order in the seventh to seal the win.
“Tegan did a great job,” White said. “We played some great defense behind her, and we ended up on the right end of the stick for once.
“I don’t care what anybody says – Pennsbury is a good team. They walk onto that field thinking they will win. That’s the difference between them and the other teams. They just know they will win. There’s no such thing as rebuilding at Pennsbury. They just reload.
“But my kids were not afraid, and that’s the difference from my other teams.”
While the Ghosts improved to 5-3 in league play, the Falcons are 8-1.
Panthers play role of giant killer – Speaking of upsets, few are bigger than Quakertown’s 3-2 win over previously undefeated Central Bucks South last Thursday. The underdog Panthers rode the strong left arm of Millersville-bound Alicia Hughes to the big win.
“Alicia has been amazing all year on the mound for us,” coach Eric Romig said. “She pitched very well, and we had a great defensive game from our team.”
The Panthers fell behind 2-0 but rallied for three runs in the fourth, sparked by several base hits and a pair of bases-loaded walks.
“Beating CB South was a nice win for us and one I hope helps the girls set the bar high for the program,” Romig said. “Our season has been very inconsistent. We have played very well at times and very badly at other times.”
The Panthers have two freshmen, five sophomores and one senior in their regular starting lineup.
“We are very young with a bright future,” Romig said. “We have a lot to learn about the game and not all of it occurs between the lines.”
In addition to Hughes, the Panthers, who have struggled to put runs on the board, have also received contributions from Nikki Carroll, Courtney Derstine and Nikki Portnoy.
Bucks like it hot – File Central Bucks West’s recent 5-0 win over Souderton under the category of ‘anything can happen’ in Continental Conference play.
Earlier this season, the Indians humbled the Bucks 7-0. On Monday, the tables were turned. Some of the credit for the turnaround, according to senior Shelby Spressart, was the April heat wave.
“The last game we played them it was probably below zero, and now it’s 90,” West’s senior shortstop said. “I think the weather had a lot to do with it, and since they beat us, we wanted to come out and get it done and win – come back and show them we’re better than 7-0.”
Spressart, the Bucks’ talented leadoff batter, had a pair of hits and drove in the game winner with an RBI single to center in the third that plated Taylor Bobek, who also had a pair of hits.
“We have our on and off games,” Spressart said. “I think we have a really good team. We’re solid, we have great defense, but some games we’re just off with our hitting.”
The Bucks managed just six hits, but it was more than enough for Bobek, who scattered four hits and did not walk a batter in a standout effort.
“I just kept the ball lower this time, kept the pitches on the outside edge,” said Bobek, wearing a bag of ice on her pitching shoulder.
Those low pitches result in one ground ball after another, and the Bucks played steady defense behind Bobek. Fourteen of 21 outs were groundouts. Six were by strikeout.
If you’re counting, exactly one out came on a fly ball – that one came when rightfielder Cassie Zanolini snagged a sharp line drive off the bat of Alycia Stiles to open the second inning.
“We played solid defense, and we had some key hits,” West coach Wayne Finkbeiner said. “On any day, anybody can win.”
Eagles give back – Norristown coach Jon Kandrick understands the value of giving back to the community. The first-year coach has been around community rec ball his entire life, and when he took over the helm of Norristown’s program this spring, Kandrick – the softball commissioner of Phoenixville’s rec program - decided to get his team involved as well.
“I know how important rec ball is to these kids,” he said. “It’s the one outlet that they can have fun with. It’s not travel ball, there’s no pressure on you. It’s just simply having fun.”
On Friday, April 3, approximately 30 youth who compete in the East Norristown Rec League were treated to a clinic led by the members of Norristown’s varsity softball team.
“To be able to take our high school team down there and let them interact with those kids, and say, ‘You know what – it wasn’t too long ago that I was down there, and people helped me out’ - it was a good way to give back to the program,” Kandrick said.
Not surprisingly, the clinic was met with open arms from league officials.
“They continuously commented how well the high school kids were interacting with the youth and how valuable of an experience it was for the youth,” Kandrick said. “The girls went over all their practice drills and made the day not only an overall success, but they had fun doing it.”
Last Saturday, Norristown’s players attended the league’s opening ceremonies.
“Friday night was our junior prom, and I told the kids I would like them to be there, and not one questioned me about it,” Kandrick said. “They were just there.
“It shows commitment.”
Gutting it out – Kim Detwiler had no business playing Norristown’s game against Plymouth Whitemarsh on Tuesday. The Eagles’ senior catcher came down with a case of food poisoning on Monday night and was under the weather all day Tuesday.
“She was up all night throwing up,” Kandrick said. “She was sick most of the day in school, but she hung in there because she realized how important this game was for us.
“We called a couple of timeouts to get her some water, but you’re not going to take a kid like that out of the game. She won’t let you. She’s that good of a captain and a leader that even being sick – no, she probably shouldn’t have played, but she took the team on her back. She was 3-for-3 with three solid hits and was in command as our catcher.”
Kandrick also had high praise for senior co-captain Shauna Byrnes.
“I can’t compliment our captains enough on how strong they are and how the team just feeds off of them so much,” the first-year coach said. “Shauna is in control of our outfield and always helps kids out. One of our kids struggled at the plate today, and before I could even say anything, Shauna was already talking to her and calming her down.”
The Eagles, who downed PW 4-0, are the SOL’s lone undefeated squad. They boast a perfect 10-0 record and have a firm hold on first place in the American Conference standings.
Perfection – It’s hard to give the label of perfection to anything, but the Pennsbury Falcons came as close as it gets to attaining perfection on a defensive play in the first inning of Tuesday’s showdown against Neshaminy.
The Redskins appeared on the verge of making a statement when – after Courtney Clee drew a one-out walk – Erin Quense ripped a wicked shot into the left field corner. Clee scoring from first on the double seemed like a foregone conclusion, but that’s when the Falcons delivered a highlight reel play that culminated with shortstop Lauren Rossi’s relay beating Clee to the plate for a momentum-killing out.
“That set a defensive tone, there’s no doubt about it because four good things had to happen,” coach Frank McSherry said. “Alyssa Becker had to dig the ball out of the corner quickly. She had come up and throw a strike to Lauren Rossi at the cut-off.
“Lauren Rossi had to throw a strike to Brooke (Downs), and Brooke had to hang on and make a good tag. Not too many times do four good things happen in one play, but that’s what it took to get that. It was just a bang-bang play, and we were lucky that four good things occurred.”
Rossi admits it was a good way to start the game.
“I love close plays like that,” the senior shortstop said. “It feels so good when you get them, and it was a huge play to start off with in the game.”
By the time the game was over, Rossi, who put on a defensive clinic, had 10 putouts/assists in a busy afternoon at shortstop, and the Falcons were winners, downing the Redskins 4-1.
SOS.com honor roll – (See Softball Notebook: Vol. 3, Part II)