State Champs! Lower Sussex All-Stars headed to regionals
After the Lower Sussex All-Stars Major League Softball team took the District III title with a sixth-inning inside-the-park grand slam, with two outs, off the bat of veteran LSLL All-Star Airelle Parker — needless to say, they were excited.
However, they didn’t let the warranted celebration distract them from their next goal of winning states and advancing to regionals — a goal they were able to accomplish last Saturday night with a 9-8 win over the Smyrna Little League team.
“It was extremely exciting — we’ve done something that hasn’t been done at that level, as far as anyone can tell me,” said head coach Sam O’Shields.
Not only had no Lower Sussex Major League softball team won a district championship in more than a decade, but Saturday night’s state championship victory was the program’s first ever for the age group.
Like the district championship game, the state championship went down to the final inning — despite the All-Stars’ 9-3 lead. Smyrna would string together five runs to make it 9-8 but, ultimately, it was the Lower Sussex defense and pitching that would ensure the victory, getting out of the inning with a strikeout from pitcher Nicole Patille.
“Our defensive front and our defensive skills are really good. We know the coverages where the play’s going to be,” said O’Shields of one of the team’s strengths. “We’ve got a pretty unique group. Nine of the girls play on the same travel-ball team. They also play on the same middle school team. For the most part they’ve played together at least for a year.”
Not only has familiarity played a role in the team’s success so far this season, but they’ve also benefitted from being able to rotate Patille and their other starting pitcher, Abigail O’Shields, on the mound throughout the game and season.
“We have two pitchers, and they’ve been very strong in the district,” explained Sam O’Shields. “They’re very complimentary of each other and they’re very supportive. They understand that it’s all part of a team and we’ve got each other’s back.”
Demonstrating the team’s maturity level, the girls limited their state championship celebration to filling out paperwork and preparing for their travel to regionals in Bristol, Conn., shortly after the win.
“We had to stop the celebration and got back to business,” Sam O’Shields said of the team’s focus on their next objective.
After preparing for their trip, the girls enjoyed a Sunday off and got a chance to continue celebrating their historic achievement before getting back to work. They were scheduled to arrive in Bristol on Thursday, July 17, to go over procedures and expectations for regionals.
Opening ceremonies are scheduled for Friday, July 18, with their first game scheduled for Saturday, July 19, against Maryland State Champion Delmar. Despite the two teams’ close proximity, O’Shields said that they don’t know much about their first opponent, having never faced them before.
“Basically, what I told the girls is we’ve always been more concerned about ourselves than our opponent,” he explained. “I feel like these girls traveling together as a team — I think they will respond well. They’ve been in state tournaments. A lot of them played in the World Series in Salisbury last year. The stage is gonna be big, but they have experience.”