As baseball enters districts and softball readies for sectionals, WLL is hoping to start the summer off with some hardware.
Despite the days of dreary, wet weather that passed over the state in the recent week, nothing — not even storms — are souring the excitement around Windermere Little League.
That’s because this month kicks off the start of the League’s All-Star baseball and softball seasons, which rev up this Saturday over at the Dr. Phillips Little League ballfields.
There, WLL will take on Winter Garden, Dr. Phillips and South Lake in the “Tournament of Champions” — the 8/9 year olds team — which will run simultaneously with the district tourney for the 9/10 All-Star teams. The other three baseball teams — 10/11, Majors (10-12) and Juniors (13/14) — will play the following week.
“Our baseball teams have had moderate success in year's past in the State Tournament,” said Patryk Ozim, an assistant on the 11s softball team and scheduler for the League. “Recently, the league amended its Charter to combine leagues, resulting in one stronger team at each level. Last year, our 12U baseball team won Sectionals and qualified for the State Tournament. We hope to continue to build off the success of that team and to continue to improve the baseball program in the coming years.
“The girls, on the other hand, are powerhouses in softball — they’ve won the state the last two years in a row at the 10-year-old level, and they were runners-up last year at the 11-and-12 year-old level,” Ozim said. “The 12s have a realistic opportunity to win the state, and they have the talent to possibly advance to the Little League World Series in Portland.”
Unlike the baseball teams, Windermere’s softball teams skip district tournaments and go straight through to the sectional tournament. The reason for the jump is due to a lack of teams in the surrounding area.
While Ozim said there was a lot to look forward to with all of the teams — including the 11s — there’s an added air of interest in the Majors softball team.
And that excitement comes with good reason, as the Majors team has a history of excellence, which includes making it all the way to the Little League World Series back in 2012. There in Portland, Oregon, Windermere finished runner-up after falling to Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the finals.
“That’s certainly the goal — to be playing in Oregon in August,” said head coach Rex Smith. “Right now we are just getting together — this is just the first week we’ve been practicing — so I think there is just a ton of excitement right now, and they know that we have a talented group, and so I think they’re all excited to be on it and playing with each other.
“Maybe some of them are nervous, because they’re with with new girls, so (we’re) just getting through all of that so we can build up confidence and start getting them comfortable around each other,” he said.
While there are some new faces on the team who are eager to get going and find their own success, there also are numerous girls who have played alongside each other over the last few years.
Two years ago several of the girls on this year’s team won states and got to go on to the southeast regional, and then last year those same girls finished runner-up in their division. So while members of the team have tasted success, there’s still the need to bring the entire squad together — including the familiar and unfamiliar faces.
Luckily for Smith, he’ll be heading into sectionals — and hopefully more — with a stacked roster filled with some of the best softball players from the area.
“We’ve got a very talented team — all the girls on the team have been playing at a pretty competitive level of softball for a while,” Smith said. “They’ve dedicated a lot of time to softball, and it’s a really well-rounded team. There really isn’t any weakness when you look at the roster across all the girls that are here.
“Anybody can step up in any game that we get into and have a big moment,” he said. “We have good pitching, we have good catchers and we have strong players at every position on the field. I’m feeling really good about the talent we have on the team.”