Pennsbury first baseman Kirby Groves has a simple philosophy when it comes to hitting: hit it hard, put the ball in play.

It has obviously worked well for the Falcons senior, who will take her bat next fall to Seton Hall, where she is expected to play third base instead of first. She has been playing third for her travel team, the Pennsbury Gems, and is very comfortable there.

"I like third because you get more ground balls, more action. But we have a very good third baseman [on the Falcons], so I told Coach [Frank] McSherry I'd go anywhere to help the team," said Groves, The Inquirer's softball player of the year.

And help the Falcons she did. Her bat and glove were keys to the Falcons' 20-4 mark. She batted .363 and drove in 26 runs.

According to most preseason predictions, Neshaminy was the favorite in the Suburban One League National Conference race. Pennsbury's reign as conference champion was coming to an end.

But with huge contributions from Groves, Pennsbury won its ninth straight conference crown and advanced to the first round of the PIAA playoffs. The Falcons finished third in the District 1 playoffs.

The Falcons were coming off a disappointing 2008 season in which they got knocked out of the district playoffs early.

"People didn't think we'd win the [conference] championship because we didn't have the dominant pitching that we've had," Groves said.

"We surprised a lot of people. Although she's not dominant, Kait Schilling did a great job of pitching for us, and we didn't make too many mistakes."

The Falcons' year ended with a 2-0 loss to District 12 Class AAAA champion St. Hubert.

"She had a ton of big hits - two outs . . . late innings," recalled McSherry, who has been the Falcons' coach since 1983. "She was very dependable."

Some of her biggest hits came in Pennsbury's 4-1 wins over the arch-rival Redskins.

"She was just phenomenal against us," said Neshaminy coach Kathleen Houser. "We should have been out of the inning when Kirby came and hit a double for two runs."

"Those were two big wins," said Groves, the National Conference MVP. She had two RBIs in each game.

"The RBIs came against Sarah McGowan and she's a very good pitcher. I was glad to make something happen."

Groves attributes her success as a hitter and fielder to her workouts with her father, Lou, a former Council Rock North assistant coach who helps coach the Gems. Once a travel volleyball player, she has been playing organized softball since she was 10.

Groves chose Seton Hall because it offers the academic challenge she wanted - she's an honor student - and because it is close enough to home that her family can go see her play.

"It's only about an hour and 10 minutes away," said Groves, who also looked at Drexel, Fordham, Pitt, and Providence, She hasn't decided on a major, but social studies is one of her favorite subjects. She has been studying politics and economics recently.

Contact staff writer Don Beideman at 267-815-0733 or dbeideman@phillynews.com.