Elyria’s East Little League All-Stars leave for Indianapolis this morning, a step closer to the World Series for 11- and 12-year-old softball players.
After a schedule revision, they’ll open play against Kentucky at noon Sunday in the nine-state Central Region tournament. Originally, Elyria was to open against Michigan on Saturday, but the schedule was revised after North Dakota withdrew from the tourney.
With the players go memories of a big Thursday night sendoff and a hot, dusty practice Wednesday with some of the best high school players in the state.
The practice was planned and conducted by five starters on Elyria’s Division I state runner-up squad — pitcher Caitlyn Minney, catcher Haley Looney, outfielder Holly Howser, shortstop Marie Masters and second baseman MacKenzie Phares. All but Phares, a junior, graduated last month. Minney and Looney earned All-Ohio honors.
In 85-degree heat, the Little Leaguers ran a base-running drill, various infield and outfield drills, took infield practice, hit plastic practice balls and took a few swings against Minney, who pitched a regulation softball.
“Marie (Masters), my best friend, and I got together and came up with the practice (routine),” said Holly Howser, whose sister, April, is an All-Star pitcher and dad, Len, is team manager. “We didn’t plan on Caitlyn pitching, so that was a big thing.
That was awesome of her.”
Len Howser and his staff watched.
“That really meant a lot to me,” he said of the Pioneers’ involvement. “I’ve had the chance to know those girls and coach some of them since they were 10 or 11 years old. I have to admit, when they huddled up at the end of practice, sat down in a circle and talked to the girls, it kind of got to me.”
Their message to the players on the outfield grass was upbeat and encouraging. Phares, whose sister, Maegan is also an All-Star, said she and her former Elyria teammates discussed outlook, attitude and goals.
“We talked about how they should go into the tournament with a positive mindset and they should have goals,” Phares said. “They all went around the circle and told us their goals for the tournament and what they want to do to help the team win. They all said they want to go in with a good attitude and do what they can to win.”
Apparently, the message got through.
“I learned that if you (make a mistake), you need to hustle more and not get down on yourself just because you missed one ball,” center fielder Kaeli Evans said. “That’s sometimes what I struggle with, but I try my hardest not to. And I was happy that (the high school players) gave up their time to help us out.”
“I feel good and I want to keep my attitude up,” right fielder-third baseman Cassie Miller said. “In that circle out there we talked about how we wanted to help the team. I said I wanted to have a good attitude, have us all work as a team and not get down on ourselves.”
Second baseman Emily Hyer said it was tough to practice in the extreme heat, but it was something the team should get used to.
“It could also be hot at regionals,” she said.
Hyer added: “My personal goal is to stop everything I can at second, even if it involves diving. I also want to hit well and not get down.”
Family and friends joined the team Thursday night for a send-off party at Vic Janowicz Memorial Park. There was food, soft drinks and games, including a cornhole tournament, putting contest, raffles and other activities.
When the team arrives in Indianapolis, it will stay in dormitory space provided by Central Region officials.
“It’s going to be neat because it’s going to be parentless and male managerless,” Len Howser said. “It’s going to be all girls and female chaperones. This will be a good chance for the girls to bond and also to meet the girls from other states. A couple of our moms, Haley Schultz’s mom, Kim, and Becca Kubisen’s mom, are going to be our chaperones.”
Regional teams and families will have a big picnic tonight. Elyria is off Saturday, when pool play action begins at noon with Illinois taking on Missouri. In addition to Kentucky and Michigan, other states in the tournament are Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.
Elyria is in the four-team Pool B, which also includes Kentucky, Iowa and Nebraska. The two top teams in each pool advance to the single-elimination championship round, which will end with three games Thursday.
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ELYRIA EAST ALL-STARS
Kaeli Evans CF
Faith Hamilton 3B/P
April Howser P/SS
Emily Hyer 2B/OF
Rybecca Kubisen 1B
Cassie Miller OF
Damia Parks OF
Maegan Phares OF/2B
Lexi Reinhardt C/3B
Haley Schultz 1B/OF/P
Gabby Shackelford SS/C
Gabby Zerbini OF/P
ELYRIA POOL PLAY SCHEDULE
Sunday: vs. Kentucky, noon; Monday: vs. Iowa, 7 p.m.; Tuesday: off day; Wednesday: vs. Nebraska, 4:30 p.m.