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BY ZACH WILLIAMS | It took one Downtown Little League team three years to transform into a state champion.
Strong hitting and critical defensive plays inspired a team comprised of local 14 year-olds to beat Haverstraw 7-6 on July 27 in Chatham, N.Y. It is the first time that a Downtown team has won a state championship in Little League softball. (Downtown Little League’s softball team of 11-year-olds also just won their state title.). They will play next in the Eastern Finals in Orange Conn. from Aug. 1-8 against teams representing nine other states. The winner of that tournament will advance to the national championship in Kirkland, Wash.
While the opportunity now opens for the team to contend for a national championship later in the summer, their recent success follows years of learning that competition runs strong within the upper levels of youth softball.
“It’s kind of crazy because everyone doubted us because we were from Downtown,” said pitcher Ava O’Mara.
When Downtown Little League first vied for an opportunity to compete in the state championship in 2011, a hard-hitting team from South Shore State Island demonstrated they were not ready by running up the score so fast that officials ended the game in the third inning by invoking the “mercy rule.”
“We were really not used to the competition,” said O’Mara, who was also part of the team that year.
Saturday’s game began in similar fashion when Haverstraw jumped to an earlier 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning. However, Downtown was ready to fight back.
Downtown got offensive momentum of its own in the bottom half of the inning, cutting the lead to one run following an R.B.I.-double by Brooke Kirwin and an R.B.I.-single by Ava Villalba.
Pitcher Morgan O’Mara held Haverstraw to no runs for the next two innings with the help of critical defensive plays. With the score remaining steady at 4-3, her twin sister Ava came in to relieve her.
“It was really important to hit your spot and not throw anything over the plate,” said Ava, of her pitching strategy against a Haverstraw team perennially viewed as a contender for the state title.
In the bottom of the fifth, Downtown took a 6-4 lead with back-to-back doubles by Sophia Marino and Emily Samar. Key defensive plays by catcher Emily Samar and shortstop Marino limited Haverstraw’s offensive efforts to just two more runs for the rest of the game.
As the home team, Downtown would come to bat for the last time in the bottom of the sixth. The score was 6-6 and the two teams were locked in fierce to determine which team was the best when it mattered.
“Morgan O’Mara scored what proved to be the winning run on some heady base running in the bottom of the six,” said father Chris O’Mara, a member of the Downtown coaching staff.
Haverstraw still had one more chance to bat. They already knew how to beat Downtown, having done so in the first day of the tournament. However, Downtown had something to prove beyond merely capturing the state crown. A certain opportunity to integrate the lessons learned from years of hard work and playing the role of the underdog gave them a certain faith in getting those final three outs.
With the tying run at second base, a pop-up fly would end the game.
“I think all that hard work paid off and we really stepped it up,” said Morgan. “We couldn’t have done it without every person [on the team].”