By TOM WILLIAMS
There is no doubt in Kerry Durkin’s mind what has inspired the Canfield 13-14 softball team to do well enough to earn a berth in the Junior League World Series.
“It was a year ago that we were driving home from Indianapolis with an empty feeling,” said Durkin, the manager of Canfield’s 11-12 team that lost 3-1 to Indiana in the 2012 Little League Central Region championship game.
Indiana went on to the Little League World Series in Oregon.
“Watching it on TV, the team that we lost to,” said Durkin, explaining that his girls knew just how close they had come to playing in a national tournament. “It’s been a long year.”
Most of that squad moved on to be eligible for the Junior League for 13-14-year-olds. Canfield defeated South Portage (Michigan), 2-1, Thursday to win the Central Region championship at Akron’s Firestone Stadium, and advance to the Junior League World Series in Kirkland, Wash. Canfield is one of 10 teams that will begin pool play on Sunday.
“It’s something that every girl dreams about, but something that you don’t really think is going to happen,” said left fielder Bridget Sweeney, one of the four 14-year-olds on the team who were not on the Little League team last year. “So it’s really special that we get this chance to go to the World Series.”
The other 14-year-olds are Amelia Manenti, Maura Kennedy and Kayla Troxil.
The 13-year-olds are Bridget Durkin, Ally Sammarco, Mia Kundinis, Maddy Johns, Jenna Gibson, Sidney Fabry, Ellie Dundics, Sidney Lambert, Ally Lambert and Savannah Maass.
Durkin said preparations began nine months ago for the busiest summer imaginable.
“This journey started probably in November of trying to get these girls assembled and say this is what we’d like to do,” Durkin said. “And it took a commitment from the families, the players.
“They play multiple sports, they’ve sacrificed a lot,” Durkin said. “It’s all worthwhile right now.”
Canfield went undefeated in Tri-T Pony games, breezed to the state title and won three pool games and a semifinal in Akron.
“I think that [loss to Indiana] served as [inspiration] — we got to [the championship game again] and these girls believed that we were knocking on the door, let’s kick it in this time.
“And they did.”
Canfield has four pitchers. Troxil relieved starter Bridget Durkin in the fifth inning of the championship game to pick up the win. The others are Gibson and Johns, Canfield’s third baseman whose eighth-inning single scored Manenti with the winning run against South Portage.
“Kayla relies more on her change-up and fastball, and she throws a little harder,” Manenti said. “Bridget has a lot more movement [on her pitches].”
Like most of her teammates, Johns is making the longest trip of her life.
“Never,” she said when asked if she’s been to the West Coast. “Everyone [else seems] to have been to California. We go to Florida.
“It was a big deal representing Ohio, but now that we get to represent the Central Region, it’s amazing to be playing the top teams in the country.”
Canfield is one of six teams from the United States in the tournament. West Cumberland (New Jersey) won the East Region, Columbus (Texas) won the Southwest Region and Gilroy (California) is representing the West Region. Those three are in Pool B with teams from Mexico and Italy.
Canfield is in Pool A along with tournament host Kirkland (Washington) and Tampa (Florida), winner of the Southeast Region. Also in Pool A are teams from Canada and the Philippines.
The top two teams in each pool will advance to the single-elimination semifinals.
Canfield opens the tournament against Canada’s representative from Windsor (Ontario) on Sunday.
“It’s amazing how much our team has grown,” Johns said. “We’re going to be so excited to [go] and see something new.”
Second baseman Ally Sammarco said the difference has been at the plate.
“We have a lot stronger bats,” Sammarco said. “We’ve become so much better at hitting.”