Four out of the past five years, the Laurel Little League Senior Softball team has advanced as the District III champs to host the Senior League Softball World Series. They return this year, hoping to improve on their record when they finished third in the world in 2007. Jeff Evan,s manager of the Laurel team, has his aim set high as he brings the team back to Roxana, facing the most intense softball competition in the world for the second consecutive year.
“It’s definitely a lot of work,” he said. “As the adage goes, success is easy to obtain, but a lot harder to maintain, and getting to the stage like the World Series is much easier said than done.”
Laurel was able to knock off the Millsboro-Georgetown Senior Softball team in the first round, 9-0, before getting past Roxana 5-1. They followed up with a rematch against Millsboro-Georgetown, who headed out the bottom bracket after being knocked down in the first game. Laurel maintained their composure and again triumphed, this time, with an 8-0 shutout.
The reigning District III champs may have looked dominant on paper, but as Evans noted, the team can’t go in with their heads too high.
“The teams we faced all came out very competitively, early in the games,” he said. “All of the teams in the district have improved since last year. Our girls had the bull’s-eye on them, and though it’s hard to tell, the games were really tight for a while.”
Laurel managed to squeeze out back-to-back home runs in their final match-up for a comfortable lead, something not often seen at that age group.
Evans is convinced that his roster will bring their best, and is surely able to do so. “I believe our lineup is bottomless,” Evans said. “Those back-to-back shots came from our sixth and seventh hitters. Every girl in the lineup, one through nine, is capable of hitting a home run, and so far, everyone has done so in either a game or practice. Any girl on that roster can change the game in a single swing.”
It’s not just the power plays Evans is relying on, though.
“We do a lot of small ball and bunting,” he said. “Lately, we have been working on poise. When you play good teams, you’re going to get down. We have to know how to work our way out of stuff. Defensively, we’ve gotten better, and as far as talent goes, our team has grown.”
Preparation for the worldwide stage has been intense. A lackadaisical practice a few nights ago may have had the coach concerned, he noted, but a vigorous appearance from his team the following morning gave him the confidence that the Laurel squad will very likely hold their own this upcoming week.
“The girls responded with a good workout in the heat,” he said. “People have to remember, we’re not playing in game situations like everyone else is now. There’s a lot for us to be working on.”
Eight of the 10 teams in the Senior Softball World Series have been decided with two more this week to determine who will win a trip to the Pyle Center, including the champions from the USA East, who will square off against Laurel in the opening game of the Series on Sunday, Aug. 3. The USA West team will also be determined by the end of this week, after Coastal Point press deadline.
As for the host team and the remaining seven, they will ready themselves for their toughest competition to date. West Mesa Little League out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, representing the USA Southwest, will go up against the Great Run Little League team out of Virginia Beach Virginia, from the USA South district on Day 1. Indiana District 11 from South Bend, Indiana will return this year, following last year’s showing as the USA Central team, last year’s runners-up. ASOFEM Little League, the Latin American Champs from Maunabo, Puerto Rico, will also return this year after qualifying last year, too. Internationally, the World Series will host teams from Ramstein AFB, Germany in the Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) League, Windsor South Canadians from Windsor, Ontario in the Canadian League, and Bacalod West Little League from Bacalod City in the Philippines, representing Asia-Pacific.
Laurel’s young team returns this year with the same players from last year’s tournament, a factor that Evans hope will give his girls an edge.
“There’s no substitute for experience,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t really have it. This year we do, and we’re rolling right along. We’ll watch a team warm up, but I don’t what it to get to the girls’ psyche. We’ve got to bring our best and be prepared for it, too. It’s important to remember that in a competition like this, the best team overall does not necessarily win it all. It depends on who comes to play that day, and we’re going to play.”
The Laurel team boasts several All-Conference players from Delaware’s Henlopen Conference, as well as a Delaware All-State outfielder, Alexis Oliphant.
He hopes that the Roxana Pyle Center and the weather will work in his advantage.
“We’ve been conditioned in this heat and humidity,” he said. “It’s not something teams vying for the [USA] East are typically used to. We should be ready to play on Sunday.”
The popularity of the Little League Senior Softball World Series has earned it airtime with the largest sports broadcaster in the world. ESPN will broadcast the championship game, live on Saturday, Aug. 9.
Admission to the World Series is free and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Refreshments, food and souvenirs will be available with special areas set aside for pin trading. Games at the Pyle Center will be held every day, from Sunday, Aug. 3 through Friday, Aug. 8, with the championship games held on Saturday, Aug. 9. Games on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday will start at 5:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with Tuesday’s games held at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. All games will be played on the Ebbets and Connie Mack fields. On Saturday, Aug. 9, the match-up to determine third place will start at 11 a.m. on the Connie Mack field, while the championship game will be held at 4 p.m. on Ebbets Field. For more information about the schedule and standings, visit www.district3.org.
Stay tuned to www.coastalpoint.com for full-on coverage of each game in the Little League Senior Softball World Series.