Although falling one game short of a state championships always comes with a twinge of disappointment, the Dr. Phillips Little League junior softball team has plenty of pride after a successful 2022 campaign.
After DP dominated postseason play — scoring 114 runs while allowing only 39 runs — the girls faced a formidable opponent in San Mateo (Jacksonville), which dominated them 11-1 at the end of the Junior League Softball State Tournament, held July 8 to 10 at Tampa Bay Little League.
Despite the loss, the team earned the state runner-up title for the first time to go along with its Section 5 championship and District 14 championship. This year, they were led by Manager Brian Wimberly and coaches Colin Church, Reston Grosch, Hunter Robinson and Richard Ruiz.
Wimberly employed a team-first mentality throughout the season.
“You’ll see a significant difference from the way I coach,” he said. “During regular season, we are developing girls on every position.”
This year, the team had about five players who were able to get on the mound and pitch. Other softball teams usually have one or two regular pitchers.
“The beauty of it is that the girls start getting behind the girl (who is) on the mound (who) hasn’t been on the mound all season long,” Wimberly said. “So, they are rallying around her; it builds team perspective.”
Wimberly not only teaches the girls to play different positions inside and outside the diamond but also how to get through the rough parts of life outside the field.
“You are teaching so much more — so many life lessons,” he said. “We talk about character traits all the time. … We talk about how do we handle things, mental toughness and so much more than just the softball angle. This game and baseball translate into life beautifully, because you work as a team and you work as an individual, and you (have) to excel at both.”
Under Wimberly’s coaching, the girls bonded as teammates and, more importantly, as friends.
“It really helps us on the field, because we are more connected, and we know what the other person is going to do,” shortstop and catcher Briana Lohr, 14, said of their friendships. “It helps with communication a lot.”
Assistant coach Hunter Robinson believes winning against Windermere Little League really helped the girls start believing in themselves.
“Every week, they just got better and better,” he said. “They fed off of (one another). … It was fun to watch them play.”
First baseman and pitcher Richelle Ruiz, 14, has been playing at the Dr. Phillips Little League for about eight years and will be attending Olympia High in the fall.
“Just playing at states alone was a crazy experience,” she said. “I honestly had fun, it was a cool time. … Getting to the field, watching other teams play, getting into the mindset and thinking about the plays — it was really surreal.”
Shortstop, third baseman, second baseman and outfielder Elizabeth Aguilar, 14, has played with the team for four seasons total and will be heading to Dr. Phillips High in the fall.
“I felt so much pressure at third base; I’ve never felt like that, and I’ve played so many travel ball games and that was the first time ever,” she said. “That game was rough.”
Centerfielder, third baseman and pitcher Melanie Harrison, 14, has been playing for the team on and off since third grade and consistently for the past two years. She’ll attend Olympia High School in the fall.
“Sometimes, when we all get down, we all stop cheering,” she said. “But we knew for states, we had to be upbeat, and we couldn’t let anything affect us. So, cheering helped a lot, and we started every game very loud.”
Pitcher and first baseman Nellie Robinson, 14, has been playing for the team since 2020. Even though she can still play another season with the team, she will be focusing on playing high school ball at Olympia high in the fall.
“The first two games ... I was really in it,” she said. “I struck out a few people; they didn’t have many big hits. ... But then at the last game, we all got tired, and I threw a lot of balls.”
Lohr has been a part of the team since she was 6 years old, when she started playing T-ball. She will attend Dr. Phillips High in the fall.
“Not too long ago, this program wasn’t really developed,” she said. “For Dr. Phillips Little League, not many teams have gone to states. Especially with softball, we’ve only had one other team, and they didn’t make it to the finals. So for us to make it and become runners-up was a really great accomplishment.”