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South Wins the East – Heads West to World Series

The old cliché “everybody loves a parade” was never more evident than when the newly crowned Little League Softball Eastern Regional Champions received a community hero’s welcome as they triumphantly made their way through the streets of South Williamsport and Duboistown.

Parades are nothing new to them as the annual South Williamsport Mummers’ parade traverses a similar route, and they have waved from the sidewalks as the Grand Slam parade signals the beginning of the Little League World Series every August. But this parade was different. It was being held for them.

The smiling faces and arm-waving enthusiasm of team members and coaches were infectious as the team of twelve 11&12-year-olds basked in the aftermath of their accomplishment of winning the Little Mountaineer Little League’s first-ever regional championship and a trip to the Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Oregon.

The South LL softball contingent departed for Portland on Monday and will play the opening game of the Little League Softball World Series August 7 against the Asia-Pacific champions. Their opponents from Bacolod City, Philippines ran roughshod through their regional tournament compiling a 5-0 record and outscoring their opponents 82-5.

Undeterred, the youthful South softballers carry an unblemished record in their march to the World Series after having successfully made their way through District, Section, State, and Regional Tournaments in undefeated fashion.

The team is comprised of players Mikaiya Hills, Kendall Cardone, Lily Reidy, Gianna Goodman, Alizabeth Schuler, Chelsey Harrison, Sage Lorson, Abby Lorson, Lynna Clark, Lacey Kriebel, Lili Cox, and Emily Holtzapple. Cory Goodman is the team’s manager assisted by coaches Chris Schuler and Josh Cox.

Goodman has been involved in coaching the majority of the girls for five years since they were eight years old. When asked when it began to sink in this team was capable of some really special accomplishments he reflected back to the state tournament.

“I think when we were at the state tournament and experienced that level of competition and were able to come away with the championship, it started to sink in,” Goodman said. “Once we won and went to Bristol for the Eastern Regional tournament I figured that if we played well we would be able to compete with anyone we faced and so far that has been the case. Now the big prize awaits us in Oregon.

“We’ve really preached teamwork since we brought the girls together for our first practice. Alizabeth Schuler has been lights out on the mound; there is no questions about that. But when we come ready to play and make the plays behind her, it is almost like we are unstoppable.”

With a twist of irony the team’s participation in the Eastern Regional Tournament in Bristol, Connecticut was one of those back to the future moments for the tournament’s director Corey Wright. Now serving as Little League Baseball’s Eastern Regional Director, Wright’s own Little League beginnings came in his hometown of South Williamsport playing for the Little Mountaineer Little League.

“It was amazing to have a team from the same Little League I played in as a youngster come here to this tournament,” Wright chuckled. “With the many teams that play Little League Baseball and Softball, to get to a regional tournament is a huge accomplishment in itself. Then to win the Eastern Regional Tournament is even more astonishing. Then for a team from your own hometown to do it created a lot of personal pride for me.

“The Little Mountaineer Little League was where I played, where my dad coached, and mom worked in the concession stand. That familiarity of it all that came here to Bristol brought it all home for me. That’s what I felt when I saw some of the many faces that I knew experiencing this wonderful moment for everyone involved from back home.

“I always saw that as the Eastern Regional Director, I have two jobs. One is to keep everybody safe. The other is to provide everyone with the experience of a lifetime. Whether they are to go on to Portland or to return back home, I want them to look at Bristol and the Regional and say ‘boy that was the best summer and tournament that I’ve ever been a part of.’

“It is hard for parents and fans to get here when the tournament is held during the week, but South brought a great crowd here. When I walked out on the field, I heard folks calling my name. Seeing those folks and the conversations we shared during the week made this tournament a bit different from all those other tournaments we’ve hosted.

“The parents understood the pressure that is on the kids. Because of the Little League series in South Williamsport every summer, they know what awaits the winner at the end. But I think they really understood what it is all about. It is a game being played. Someone is going to win, and someone is going to lose, but it was truly a real pleasure having both South Williamsport and Connecticut playing in that championship game.

“It was a bit surreal for me,” Wright concluded.

With that hurdle cleared, Goodman and his team have spent the past week preparing for that one last obstacle that awaits them.

“The day of the parade was a day off for us but last Saturday we got back to our practice routine and tried to keep things as normal as possible,” Goodman explained. “We’ve had requests from various news outlets that they wanted to come to practice and we did everything we could to accommodate those requests. We understand and are grateful for the interest being shown to our team, but we needed to adhere to our normal routine as much as possible so that we can hit the ground running when we get out to Oregon.

“The community has been absolutely amazing. I said that to everyone who has asked me the same question. The amount of support from friends, family, parents, businesses, not only in South Williamsport but businesses from throughout the entire county have stepped up to help us out. The girls have done all the work to achieve what we have so far, but all the support we have received has been so much appreciated to make this entire journey go as smoothly as it possibly can.”

Well aware his team will be playing in the first game of the Softball World Series, Goodman sees that as a plus.

“Playing first — I don’t think that will make much difference to us. At these tournaments, the more you sit around, the more your nerves build up, especially for 11 & 12-year-old girls. So I think just getting out there and getting after it will help us out.”

As for what will it be like in Oregon, Goodman sees some similarity to his hometown.

“Being from here, it will be softball paradise. It will be fun for the girls to experience out there what they see here in their hometown every third week of August when teams from all over the world come to South Williamsport for the Little League Baseball World Series. Now, we will be one of those teams coming from around the country and the globe to play for a World championship in someone else’s backyard. That will be truly special.”

Indeed it will be. We will all be watching and rooting for the South Little League softball team to make Little League history in their own historic Little League community.

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