When the Warwick West Side 9/10-year-old softball all-stars lost at the state tournament last year, Carlos Rodas noticed a different attitude than what he was used to seeing.
“Years past, you get eliminated, and it’s ‘Oh well, there’s always next year,’” said Rodas, who is managing the squad this year. “Last year, it started from the moment they were eliminated, just a different attitude. There’s been a dedication from the players, parents and coaches to see this thing through.”
And they’re doing just that.
With many of the same players from last year’s team, West Side captured the District 3 championship last Wednesday with a 12-2 victory over Westerly. The team then had little time to rest before opening the state tournament but had no trouble with the quick turnaround. West Side edged East Providence 8-7 in extra innings on Saturday then rolled past Lincoln 13-2 on Sunday.
West Side is now just one win away from the state championship, and whichever team comes out of the loser’s bracket will have to beat West Side twice. The title game is set for Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Forbes Field in East Providence.
“The girls are psyched,” Rodas said. “This group, I can honestly say, it’s not just a recreation thing for them. They live, eat and breathe softball. They’re pumped.”
West Side has not lost yet this summer. It opened district tournament play with a mercy-rule victory over East Greenwich then beat Westerly 12-3 for a spot in the championship. There, it matched up with Westerly again and left no doubt about which team was best in the district. Emily Carter and Kelsey Burr handled the pitching duties and the offense had another big night.
“We wanted to get the bats going early, knowing that the pressure would be on Westerly,” Rodas said. “We didn’t want to give them any hope. We went up early and stayed on them.”
West Side celebrated the championship but quickly turned its attention to the state tournament and the increase in competition that comes with it. West Side matched up with District 2 champion and host East Providence, the same team that it was eliminated by in last year’s state tournament.
“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Rodas said.
And it was. The teams went back and forth all game, with West Side pitchers Carter, Burr and Alyssa Richard keeping their team in the game. Finally, in the bottom of the eighth inning, Bryanna Rastella worked a bases-loaded walk to give West Side the dramatic victory.
“It was a great game,” Rodas said. “It’s the kind of game where you hate to see anybody lose, but I’m glad it wasn’t us.”
With momentum on their side, West Side delivered its most impressive performance yet with a 13-2 victory over District 1 champion Lincoln.
Burr and Richard combined on four strong innings, while the middle of the order led by Maddy Damato, Richard and Dyanna Rodas delivered much of the offensive punch.
“Everybody is contributing and we get a lot of offense from that part of the order,” Carlos Rodas said. It’s a tough part of the lineup for opposing pitchers to get through.”
West Side has also gotten contributions throughout its run from Rastella, Carter, Burr, Sophia Detroia, Trinity Reilly, Sydni Bigelli, Baily Arruda, Isabela Demelo, Maeve Malloy and Ashley Kidd.
“It’s been a team effort in every game,” Rodas said. “The girls have done a great job.”
Now, they’re on the verge of taking their show on the road. The state champion will qualify for the 9/10-year-old Eastern Region Invitational to be held in Old Forge, Pa., from August 2 through the 10th.
But West side knows it isn’t there yet.
“The focus is not to get ahead of ourselves,” Rodas said. “When we left the field on Sunday, we told the girls, ‘You can enjoy this until midnight. When you wake up Monday morning, you owe it to yourself and to each other to make yourself a better softball player between then and Thursday. If we do that, I think we’ll be in good shape.”