After almost a month of practice and three more weeks of games in the district and state tournaments, the Western Little League 11-12-year-old fast-pitch softball team is ready for the big stage.
Western opens play in the Southeastern Regional at 2 p.m. on Thursday with a first-round matchup against Florida. And judging from the attitude at practice, the Western players are ready and excited to play against the best teams in the Southeast.
“I know when Thursday comes I will probably be a little nervous, but I think as a team we all believe we can win the tournament,” outfielder/third baseman Madelyn Phillips said. “I think this is a team full of good players, and we have played in a lot of big tournaments as a team, and we play so well together. We want to keep representing not only Western Little League, but also the state of Georgia.”
Most of the players have competed in big tournaments through travel ball, but Emma Hardy said the regional is as big as any tournament they have ever played in. “We all know that if we can win this tournament we are going to get to go to Portland, Oregon for the World Series and that would be very cool,” Hardy said. “We know that it will be a very tough tournament, but we have showed in the state tournament that when we get down it just pushes us to do better. Plus we are very excited to be playing so close to home where our friends and family can watch us play.”
Head coach Dewayne Phillips and his coaching staff will also be forced to make adjustments throughout the tournament, which begins with North Carolina facing West Virginia at 11 a.m. The other first-day matchup pits Virginia against Tennessee at 5 p.m. South Carolina is the other team in the tournament, and its first game is Friday against the West Virginia-North Carolina winner.
“This is not like the state tournament where we have seen all the teams and we know who will be tough and who won’t be,” Dewayne Phillips said. “We have never seen any of these other teams play, but I believe that we can hit the ball against anyone. We feel like we have two great pitchers with Sierra Ussery and Dixiana Sims, and we have only made four errors in six games, so we feel great about our defense, too.
“As a coach, I have tried to take a few days off from thinking about the tournament, but when I’m not working, it is always on my mind. I am sure I have gained a few gray hairs this week.”
Western will look for Ussery, Henderson Hurdle, Megan Sharpe, Jordan Moss and Taylor-Anne Martin to lead the way offensively, while it will rely heavily on a defense led by Hurdle, Dana Walker, Keely Bryant Kaci Paul and Emma Livingston.
Emma Hardy, who plays first base and outfield, said her team will be ready for anything this week, even if it lost its first game.
“Sure we would be upset, but I am pretty sure that we could fight back and make it to the end,” Hardy said. “I have so much confidence in everybody on this team, and I know we will never quit fighting. We are all excited about representing our state, and we want to bring a title home.”