ELYRIA — For many Little League softball teams, the Central regional tournament, where the best teams from across the Midwest will compete, is a destination in itself.
The Elyria East Junior (age 13-14) softball all-stars see the regional tournament, which begins Saturday at Akron’s Firestone Stadium, as just another step in a journey that will hopefully end in Kirkland, Wash., the site of the Little League Junior Softball World Series.
Of course, the expectations are higher in Elyria, where the junior softball team has earned the right to make the cross-country trek three of the past five years.
“We really don’t feel pressure to keep up the tradition, it just makes us work even harder,” pitcher-third basemen Elizabeth Ellis said.
“I’ve wanted to go to the World Series since I was a little girl and my cousin, Kelsey Bobek, went to the World Series. I know this year’s team can do it, too. We’ve been working hard and have played together for a long time, so we know what we are capable of.”
Although the girls have played together on various teams for years, this particular squad which is comprised of players from the three Elyria East Junior teams as well as players from the Elyria Softball Organization travel teams, had only two weeks to practice together.
“We’re blessed that many of these girls have been on our all-star teams since they were 9 or 10 years old so they know each other and know what kind of work they have to put it,” all-star manager Chris Sito said. “These girls play softball year-round so it’s just a matter of continuing the hard work and fine-tuning positions and figuring out who your pitchers will be.”
It’s that year-round commitment to the sport that makes Elyria stand out.
“What really sets Elyria apart is that the adults that get involved in softball here, become invested in the entire program,” Sito said. “It’s not just about this year’s team, it’s about making the entire program and every girl playing now and in the future reaching their potential. People see how much success Elyria High School has had and what we have done here and the girls and their families want to be a part of that and continue that.”
Few players know more about the success of Elyria softball than centerfielder-pitcher Jessica Sito. Not only is her father the manager, but her older sister and cousin were both state champions at Elyria High.
“I want to live up to my name but I also want to do my own thing and make a name for myself,” she said. “It’s just exciting for a chance to go to regionals and hopefully see my hard work pay off.”
Although Sito’s focus is firmly set on Akron, she’s allowed herself to dream about what it would be like to go all the way and win the Little League World Series with her father in the dugout guiding the team.
“That would just be awesome,” she said. “It’s almost too amazing to even think about. I become speechless trying to even imagine it.”
Catcher-second baseman Katie Travers said the family atmosphere of the team extends well beyond biological ties.
“This is a great group of girls to plays with,” she said. “We all know each other really well and we all get along. We really are like another family.”
Some of the Elyria all-stars will find Firestone Stadium quite familiar. Three members of the team — pitcher Madison Fullmer, first baseman Anna Daly and shortstop-catcher Sybil Roseboro — were also on the Elyria High team that played its state semifinal game there on June 1.
The tournament will include another team from Ohio as well as the state champions from Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin.
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• WHAT: Central Regional Junior Tournament
• WHO: Elyria East All-Stars
• WHEN: Elyria opens Saturday at 5:30 p.m. vs. Illinois; plays Kentucky at
3 p.m. and Iowa at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday; and Michigan on Monday at noon. Semifinals are Tuesday at noon and 4 p.m. and the final is Wednesday at 2 p.m.
• WHERE: Firestone Stadium, Akron