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By ZACH WILLIAMS | Downtown Little League’s all star girls softball team won the city championship Saturday and will be playing for the state tournament at the end of the week.
Limiting their mistakes, powered Downtown to victory in the Little League Section 5 All-Stars 11s championship with a 5-2 victory over Great Kills, Staten Island at Con Edison Field on E. 16th St. to take the section title, which covers New York City as well as Long Island.
The team of 10- and 11-year-olds will play next at the state tournament on Friday, July 25 in Chatham, N.Y.
The section title was far from assured though going into the weekend when an early defeat in the section tournament meant Downtown needed two victories over Great Kills to advance. A 4-1 victory on Fri., July 18 featured the same “key element,” to success that came into play the next day, according to Downtown coach Scott Morrison.
“Our motto was: ‘the team that makes the less errors, wins,’” he said.
Downtown players were not lacking in individual heroics. Pitcher Jamie Morrison struck out six, allowing only three hits in the complete game win. Zoe Anderson, who plays third base, led the team at the plate with two runs batted in while sisters Ava and Emma Whitman each batted in one run.
Great Kills had advantages of their own coming into the game, including a high-octane fan base.
They are known there for taking Little League with a fervor unique among the five boroughs. They print their familial affiliation on the back of otherwise matching red jerseys. They speak up audibly from the outfield when umpires attract their ire. And several of their players appear at least five and half feet tall – home run threats when the outfield fence is only 150 feet from home plate.
In the first inning, one of them would blast a line drive like she was Ichiro Suzuki, but Downtown’s right fielder, Aeryn Lubelsky, was right there, ready to catch the ball. Downtown meanwhile exhibited strong bunting and base running as their lead grew to 5-0 in the third inning.
Anxiety has no place in the batter’s box, said center fielder Grace Kirwin, Downtown’s leadoff hitter in the title game. Certain lessons are ready for application within that brief moment when the florescent green softball spins towards home plate.
“I don’t really think about what’s going to happen,” she said. “I just watch the ball [and] do what my coaches tell me.”
As the bottom of the fourth began, Staten Island would launch its strongest offensive effort of the game with two singles followed by a wild pitch. With runners on second and third, a hard-grounder was too much to handle as Staten Island scored two runs to make it 5-2.
Pitcher Jamie Morrison seemed in trouble. She walked a batter and the next one made contact with another grounder. This time though there was no trouble getting the ball over to Anabella Pelaez at first to end the inning.
“We hit rockets and the girls made the plays so they made the defensive plays in the big innings and we didn’t and I think that’s what it amounts to,” said Great Kills coach Jim Durkin.
Downtown got runners on base in the fifth but both teams tightened their defenses for the rest of the game. Morrison meanwhile continued throwing heat and getting runners out with the help of strong infield play.
Jim Nelson, longtime district administrator of Little League in Manhattan and the Bronx, summed up the secret of winning at this level of play by saying: “throw strikes” and “play good in the infield.”
In the bottom of the sixth – the final inning – there were two outs and a runner on third. Then three balls and two strikes accrued. Suspense played out with a foul ball. The moment of truth arrived with another grounder and it all looked so routine as the throw beat the runner to first.
Such a conclusion only made sense for the team, but worried Downtown parents hung onto to each moment from the center field fence until the final out was called.
“I’m excited, but nervous. Seeing them work so hard for this [and] practice everyday so they deserve it if they get this,” said Craig Boyce, father of outfielder Maddie Boyce, on the eve of the big game Saturday.