It was the classic Cinderella story: the Egg Harbor Township Youth Softball 12U girls' softball team, narrowly eliminated from the state tournament, were gifted a chance at revenge at Regionals, which they capitalized on. For the first time ever, an Egg Harbor Township team was headed to the Babe Ruth World Series in Florida.
But after a strong start, the girls sputtered and were eliminated in the final game of the first day of bracket play.
Even though they fell short of the hardware, finishing tied for seventh, they've won the admiration of the community. Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough presented the girls with awards during the Sept. 12 Town Committee meeting, saying they had made the township proud.
Angela Varela, mother of Marissa Varela, 12, watched her daughter and teammates accept the mayor's honor.
"It was an amazing feeling, and all these girls are my girls, not only Marissa, but every single girl is considered one of our girls," Varela said. "Just to see them up there, and see them take this with pride because that's how they played all season long, it was an amazing feeling."
The girls came out hot Aug. 4, the first day of competition, crushing Independence, Kan., 18-4 in the first game of pool play and sliding by Winter Park, Fla., 3-2 in the second. They went 1-1 in the second day's play.
Their momentum carried into double-elimination bracket play, which they opened with a big win over Audubon, Pa. They met their match in Lodi, Calif., in the next game, an 11-0 loss that dropped them into the elimination bracket.
By the end of the day's third game, another win over Winter Park, the girls were spent, the color drained from their faces and their movement sluggish. On hearing that they would have to return to the field in four hours to play yet another game in the 90-plus heat and humidity, coach Rob Warker rushed the team back to the hotel to cool down with a dip in the pool and cold showers before the day's last game.
"When we got back to the field, they looked better, their color was better, but they just didn't have their legs," Warker said.
Their energy sapped by their three earlier games, the girls were eliminated, 9-2, by Washington, N.C. By contrast, Washington was fresh, having only played two teams before taking on Egg Harbor Township.
Warker, though, was reluctant to say these circumstances dictated the outcome, saying that dealing with such matchups is part of the game.
"We're used to the luck of the draw, we know how it rolls and we don't hang our heads down, it is what it is," Warker said. "Yeah, we were a little hurt. I think all the girls were a little hurt that the season comes to an end, and we can't call ourselves World Champions."
While Tori Szrom, 13, agreed she was sore about the season's end, she said she and her teammates were glad to have done as well as they did.
"I was happy we made it as far as we did," Tori said. "It's Worlds, we could have gotten cut the first day, the first half of the tournament, but we didn't."
Warker thanked the community at the meeting, saying the team's success would not have been possible without their generosity. The trip, including lodging, food, and airfare, cost more than $1,000 per person, which was paid for largely through coin drops, fundraisers and donations.
Warker, who said he plans to return next year as the 12U coach, said the team's success has set a new standard for the township's athletes, one he hopes another team will soon surpass.
"We've already won the mid-Atlantic regional and been to the World Series, so now the next step would be someone from (EHTRec Athletics) to take that next step and win a World Series," Warker said. "We've never been to a world series in the history of the program. With us doing it, people see we can do it. As long as they can have hard work and dedication, it's obtainable."
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