They left Warwick on Friday afternoon not knowing how they would measure up at the next stop on their summer softball journey.
They found out pretty quickly – and it was the answer they were looking for.
The Warwick West Side 9/10-year-old all-stars opened pool play at the Little League Eastern Regional in Old Forge, Pa., with a 12-2 victory over Vermont on Saturday. Riding a wave of newfound confidence, the West Side stars topped Maine 12-7 on Sunday to clinch a spot in the semifinals.
“The first game was a huge, huge confidence boost for the girls,” said West Side manager Carlos Rodas. “They didn’t know what to expect. By the second inning, they realized, ‘Hey, we belong here.’”
West Side was scheduled for one more pool play game today against Connecticut, but with spots in the semis already clinched for both teams, it won’t mean much. The top two teams in the New England and Mid-Atlantic pools will advance to Tuesday’s Eastern Region semifinals. The New England No. 1 seed plays Mid-Atlantic No. 2 at 4:30 p.m., with Mid-Atlantic No. 1 playing New England No. 2 at 7 p.m. The winners of those games will play for the Eastern Region championship on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
As one of four teams left in an eight-state region stretching from Maryland to Maine, West Side is pinching itself.
“It’s pretty overwhelming to sit back and think about it,” Rodas said. “The kids are so excited and everybody in the league is just saying, ‘This is crazy.’ At the same time, we don’t want to get this far just to get this far. We want to keep it going.”
West Side punched its ticket to the tournament thanks to district and state championships in Rhode Island. Players and coaches viewed the trip to Pennsylvania as an added bonus, regardless of results.
“We came down here saying anything at this point is just the cherry on top,” Rodas said. “But it’s nice we were able to get a couple of wins.”
After opening ceremonies on Saturday morning, West Side played the second game of the tournament’s opening day.
And it was pretty much a perfect start.
Emily Carter pitched a complete game with 10 strikeouts and the offense jumped out to an early lead en route to the mercy-rule win over Vermont’s Northwest Little League.
“We really got contributions all through the lineup,” Rodas said. “Everybody put the bat on the ball. We got up on them early and stayed up. For Vermont, it was a step up in competition.”
On Sunday, West Side squared off against Maine state champion Scarborough Little League and found itself in a much different kind of game. Through four innings, West Side trailed 7-3.
But in the fifth, West Side took advantage of an error and then put together a stunning nine-run rally, all with two outs.
“We just kept hitting and we were really aggressive on the bases,” Rodas said. “We felt like we had nothing to lose, so we really wanted to be aggressive. I think we rattled them. I looked back in the book wondering, ‘Did we really do all that with two outs?’”
Kelsey Burr started the game in the circle and Alyssa Richard finished it, sealing the victory after West Side had taken the lead.
West Side and Connecticut’s Waterford South both went 2-0 in the New England pool over the weekend. In the Mid-Atlantic, New York’s North Bellmore/North Merrick and New Jersey’s East Windsor PAL went 2-0 as well. Monday’s games will determined seedings for the semifinals.
However it shakes out, those four teams look like the cream of the crop, as West Side is about to see first-hand in the semifinal round.
The West Side stars are hoping they’ll fit right in again.
“I told the girls there’s no more easy outs,” Rodas said. “We’ve watched some of the other teams and it’s definitely going to be another step up in competition. But we’re not going to back down from anybody.”