AVON — For the girls on Avon’s Majors Little League team that begins state tournament play today, softball is anything but child’s play.
This group of 11- and 12-year-olds that defeated Elyria East to win the District 3 championship has been playing softball almost year round for the past two years. Their primary focus: Making it to state for the second time in three years.
These same girls won the district championship in 2010 before falling to Wheelersburg in the state finals.
“We play softball a lot, it’s my favorite sport,” left fielder Shay Davidson said. “All of our coaches have been so helpful and taught us so much. If we can we win the state tournament it will be like a dream come true for me.”
Once the Little League season is over, the girls also play fall ball in Elyria and continue to play throughout the winter at Diamond Indoor Sports in Westlake.
Before the Little League tournament got under way, many of the girls also played for the Tidalwaves team based in LaGrange.
“When we first put this team together four years ago, we didn’t realize how good we were until we beat Elyria East in the district tournament in 2010,” Avon coach Todd Austinson said. “The first time in the state tournament we didn’t know what to expect, but this time everyone is ready.”
Unlike high school softball where one star pitcher can lead a team all the way to a state championship, Little League pitching rules limit girls to nine innings per day. And any pitcher who throws two innings or more in one day has to rest a day before taking the mound again.
The good news for Avon is it has two pitchers — Hannah Boesger and Dani Austinson — ready to go.
“Getting good pitching is the key to winning in softball,” coach Austinson said. “It gets tough as a coach to manage the inning, but I think this setup is better than high school because it becomes more of a team game and less about one pitcher.”
When Avon takes the practice field everything is done with a purpose. They run drills with precision, calling out game situations and hitting cutoffs across the field without a miscue.
“I think all the practice we’ve done is important because I have more confidence now than I did two years ago,” second baseman Emma Reynolds said. “I was so happy Saturday when we won. I remember when we were running around the field with the championship banner. It was a good feeling. It’s hard to even imagine winning the state tournament. That would be even better.”
When he’s not coaching the Avon team, Austinson is president and CEO of Aeroforce Technology Inc. And while his athletic background is in golf, he’s been coaching his daughter’s team since she began T-ball.
“I always imagined Dani being a golfer, but she loved softball from Day 1,” he said. “She likes team sports better than individual sports.”
The past four seasons have been quite a bonding experience for players.
“We know each other so well,” Davidson said. “We really want each other to do well. We’re so close that every girl on this team is like a sister to me.”
Winning the six-team state tournament would earn Avon a trip to the Central Regional tournament in Indianapolis, where a trip in the Little League Softball World Series will be on the line. Avon will play its first game today at 3 p.m. against District 2 champion Canfield.
“We all really want to beat Wheelersburg and win the state tournament,” Reynolds said. “We haven’t forgotten that they beat us two years ago.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or email@example.com.