ELYRIA — Some had never been on an airplane. Some had never been west of the Mississippi River.
But today, every member of Elyria’s East Little League All-Star softball team can say she has flown to the American Northwest.
Best of all, she can boast that she plays on the first Elyria team to qualify for a Little League World Series in the division for 11- and 12-year-olds. Elyria and nine other teams from the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, Italy and the Philippines will battle for the world championship.
The action begins today with Elyria taking on Tualatin, Ore. They are in the five-team Pool A with Italy, Puerto Rico and McLean, Va. Pool B teams are Canada, Robinson, Tex., Robbinsville, N.J., the Philippines and Tucson, Ariz.
The semifinals on Tuesday and the championship game on Wednesday will be televised live on ESPN2.
The team flew from Cleveland to Portland on Monday. It rode to the airport in buses paid for personally by Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda.
The players and coaching staff were honored at a huge civic picnic Saturday night at Vic Janowicz Memorial Park, during which Brinda congratulated and encouraged them and wished them luck. She also gave each player a copy of a congratulatory proclamation.
Elyria earned a World Series berth by winning the Central region championship in Indianapolis on July 25.
“We were congratulating each other,” second baseman Emily Hyer said of the team’s reaction. “We were all happy and crying, because we were so excited. World Series is like the chance of a lifetime. You can look back on it.
“We talked about if we’re one of the top two teams, we get to be on ESPN and stuff like that. We just have to play our game to get there.”
The fact the team has already made local history wasn’t lost on outfielder-pitcher Haley Schultz.
“We were excited because no team from Elyria had ever won regionals in our age group,” she said. “We really wanted to go the World Series and we’ve been working for this for a while. When April (Howser) got that last out, we just ran and gave her a hug and jumped into a big dog pile.”
So the million-dollar question is: Can a team of 11- and 12-year-old girls from Elyria compete with some of the best young softball talent on the planet?
“We have good hitting, a lot of power hitters, and we have a fantastic outfield,” said left fielder Gabby Zerbini. “It’s a big honor to be one of the top 10 teams in the world. We’re expecting the other teams to be on their best game, because they’re one of the 10 best teams in the world, too.”
Members of the team have played together as a travel team over the summer and have improved as a result, outfielder Damia Parks said.
“I’ve gotten better at hitting and catching the ball,” she said. “(Manager Len Howser) has worked with me on hitting and everything and I’ve gotten better as a player. We have very good hitters and good defense.”
Howser is confident the team will do well.
“I’ve had the privilege to be around this a lot and, in fact, I was part of the coaching staff of the (U16) team that went to the World Series (and finished second in 2009),” he said. “Based on what I’ve seen in international competition, I definitely believe we will be one of the strongest teams out there.”
And he became more confident.
“We have a very real chance of winning that championship,” he added. “There’s going to be other strong teams, but I believe we’ll be among the strongest teams there, I really do.”
Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT:Little League Softball World series
WHO: Elyria East vs. Tualatin, Ore.
TIME: 1 p.m.
WHERE: Alpenrose Stadium, Portland, Ore.
RADIO: WEOL 930-AM
ELYRIA EAST ROSTER
Kaeli Evans, CF
Faith Hamilton, 3B/P
April Howser, P/SS
Emily Hyer, 2B/OF
Rybecca Kubisen, 1B
Cassie Miller, OF
Damia Parks, OF
Maegan Phares, OF/2B
Lexi Reinhardt, C/3B
Haley Schultz, 1B/OF/P
Gabby Shackelford, SS/C
Gabby Zerbini, OF/P
Manager: Len Howser
Assistants: Greg Hamilton, Matt Reinhardt
POOL A: Elyria East, McLean, Va.; Italy; Puerto Rico; Tualatin, Ore.
POOL B: Canada, Robinson, Texas; The Philippines; Tucson, Ariz.; Robbinsville, N.J.
ELYRIA EAST POOL PLAY SCHEDULE
* Today vs. Tualatin, Ore. (1 p.m.)
* Friday vs. Italy (3:30 p.m.)
* Sunday vs. McLean, Va. (8 p.m.)
* Monday vs. Puerto Rico (10 p.m.)
* Tuesday: semifinals
* Wednesday: championship
All times EDT
All pool play games on WEOL 930-AM