Decade’s best No. 10: Savanah Doney made an impact at North Penn-Liberty
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series looking back at the Top 10 boys basketball teams, coaches, games and players from the last decade.
North Penn-Liberty was a victory away from ending a 14-year district playoff drought. It was an exciting time as the Mounties made an eight-win improvement that year, finishing the 2015 campaign 10-10.
But afterward this late-season win at Elm Park, co-coach Lynn Grinnell could not help but feel even more optimism when looking toward the future. Just wait, he told this reporter, until opponents see Savanah Doney.
Doney was an eighth grader at the time, but was part of a class eager to make an impact and transform the program.
Doney was not as good as advertised, she was better. The current Bloomsburg pitcher helped usher in the best four-year run in program history and became the greatest player North Penn-Liberty has ever produced. Doney took a blowtorch to both the North Penn-Liberty pitching and hitting record books during her high school career, producing 50 wins, 534 strikeouts and 113 hits.
A two-time Class AAA all-state selection and the 2017 Sun-Gazette Player of the Year, Doney was outstanding each season at North Penn-Liberty, winning at least 10 games every season while never having an ERA higher than 2.52 or a batting average lower than .322. A complete player, Doney made just four errors in four years and also stole 30 bases, being caught just once. She also was the most valuable player on a record-breaking 2017 team which reached both its first district final and state tournament.
“She always pulls through. She’s a talented girl,” North Penn-Liberty co- coach Brandy Heatley said that year. “She’s talented and she works hard.”
That was evident throughout Doney’s freshman season. North Penn-Liberty had ended that playoff drought a season earlier, but Doney’s arrival marked a more rapid ascension. The Mounties went 13-6, putting together their best season of the 2000s and coming within a timely hit of reaching the District 4 Class A semifinals. Doney threw a gem against Muncy, but the Indians won, 3-2 in nine innings. Doney finished 10-5 that year, posting a 1.61 ERA and striking out 65. She also hit .322 and helped lay the foundation for the breakthrough season soon coming.
Doney has never been one to rest on past achievements and she grew better reach season, raising her strikeout total every year and becoming one of the district’s best all-around players by her sophomore season. Doney was a rock of consistency for the Mounties in 2017, helping it set a program-record with 17 wins. The Sun-Gazette Player of the Year went 17-6 with a 1.49 ERA and 124 strikeouts as the Mounties beat perennial district title contenders Loyalsock and Wellsboro to reach the final of a rugged Class AAA tournament.
As good as she was in the circle, Doney might have been even better at the plate. The sophomore was one of the state’s toughest outs, hitting .545 and collecting 42 hits. Doney smashed two home runs, three triples and 12 doubles while driving in 28 runs, scoring 31 and closing the season on a 16-game hitting streak.
Doney raised her performance that postseason, winning two games and allowing just seven runs against loaded Wellsboro, Mifflinburg and Mid Valley teams. She went 8 for 10 as well and played a huge role in North Penn-Liberty winning the biggest game in program history.
That day at Turbotville’s Moser Complex, Doney threw a six-hitter, belted a key double during that a four-run, sixth-inning rally and helped the Mounties defeat former nemesis Wellsboro, 4-2. North Penn-Liberty defeated Wellsboro for the first time in three games that season and denied the NTL-I champions their third straight championship appearance.
“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt in my life,” Doney said afterward. “When we got that last out it just actually hit me that we won when it counted and we pulled through a team.”
Doney added three more hits in the next two games and stymied Mifflinburg and Mid Valley offenses which were both hitting near .400 collectively.
“When you get toward the district play, there’s less strikeouts because they’re all there to hit,” Doney said. “So you just have to force the outs and let your teammates get them.”
Doney did change that approach her junior year, but she also became a more prolific strikeout pitcher, fanning 158 batters in 126 innings. Doney went 13-6 with a 2.44 ERA and produced 10 or more strikeouts nine times. The right-hander threw a three-hit gem against CMVT in a 7-1 district quarterfinal win as the Mounties reached the semifinals for a second straight season. Doney continued one of the district’s longest hitting streaks of the decade, opening the season by hitting safely in 13 straight games and increasing it to 29 games over two years. She also hit .377 with a .479 on-base percentage as more teams pitched around her and walked her.
Doney closed the best individual career in North Penn-Liberty history a year later, striking out 187 and totaling a 2.52 ERA. A dual threat again, Doney also hit a team-high .475 and produced a .529 on-base percentage. North Penn-Liberty was a big underdog against eventual state quarterfinalist Warrior Run in its opening district playoff game, but Doney stifled one the district’s best offenses and made one last emphatic statement about how good she was and how far the program had come.
Doney overpowered Warrior Run for 7 2/3 innings, scattering three hits and striking out nine before the Defenders won, 1-0. The loss, obviously, stung, but a new standard had been set.
“We have a lot of young players coming up and they are very talented. This (program resurgence) is a big confidence booster for us,” Doney said. “This shows that we’re not just some small-town school. We can actually play some good ball.”
And Doney played it better than anyone who has ever suited up there.