WLL brought home a new trophy as they dominated in the Southeast Region Tournament of State Champions.
Out on Field 4 at RichEllen Park in Clarksville, Tennessee, something big was unfolding for Windermere Little League’s 9-10-11 All-Star team.
With two outs in the top of the sixth, all WLL needed was one out to take home the Southeast Region Tournament of State Champions title — the endgame of the Minors division.
WLL didn’t have long to wait on that last out, as a called strike three flew by catcher Nyree James, giving the batter a chance to advance to first. In the blink of an eye, James jumped on the ball — tossing it into the glove of Riley Winters at first.
It was all over — they had come out on top 12-3 to lay claim to the title.
Gloves flew into the air as players left the dugout and mobbed one another at first base, while hollering and cheers broke out from the stands filled with parents and family.
“It was very exciting and I was full of adrenaline,” said Julissa Frias, the team’s power-hitting shortstop. “At first I thought these must be good teams, so we are going to have real competition. I wasn’t really expecting a lot, but also expecting a lot at the same time.”
As Head Coach Jared Czachorowski walked onto the field, he took in the moment that his team had spent the last month or so working toward.
“It’s really special,” Czachorowski said. “We went as far as we could go, undefeated — I’m just really happy for the girls.
“We made a lot of right moves with pinch hitting — usually whoever came in to pinch hit got a nice hit — and putting certain fielding substitutions at the right time,” he said. “Everything just all worked out.”
Though the score may seem lopsided, early on it was a bit of a challenge for WLL, which found itself tied up at 2-2. But then, everything seemed to just go right for WLL.
After going up 3-2 in the third, WLL blew up the scoreboard the following inning with a seven-run fourth to take a dominating 10-2 lead. From there, WLL wouldn’t look back.
“It’s really special. We went as far as we could go, undefeated — I’m just really happy for the girls."
— Jared Czachorowski
And if you look at the league’s run through the regional, there wasn’t really much competition — sans the first game that saw WLL get a hard-fought 7-3 win over Virginia.
“That was the toughest team we played in our whole run from sections to states, and up here in the region,” Czachorowski said.
Just as before — in sectionals and states — it was a combination of solid pitching and general execution across the board that helped WLL battle through that tough start, Czachorowski said.
“The girls had great resolve and we had a phenomenal pitching performance by Riley Winters — she came in in the second inning and basically didn’t give up any runs,” Czachorowski said.
What followed next was a game that was a bit easier for WLL, as the team hammered Tennessee 22-2 in one of the biggest blowouts of the tournament before going on to take down West Virginia in the championship game.
The satisfaction of being able to do something many young softball players dream about was just as sweet as Frias thought it would be — though it wouldn’t happen without coming together as a team, she said.
“It’s mostly teamwork, picking each other up and just working really hard with each other,” Frias said. “There were a lot of favorite things (for me), but playing with the team and winning felt amazing.”
Winning is one thing that the girls can take away from their time in Clarksville, but it’s the chance to bond that really makes it worthwhile, Czachorowski said.
Most of the team rode from Windermere to Tennessee on a van, and watching the girls enjoy each other’s company and sing — or scream — their game chants is something that Czachorowski hopes they take away from their time with the team.
“They’re going to remember having fun playing softball and being a part of a team, and building their relationships with other people and working together,” Czachorowski said.