WESLEY CHAPEL — The Wesley Chapel Angels announced themselves as a softball powerhouse on a national stage last week, finishing second in the 9- and 10-year-old division of the Dixie Angels World Series.
It was only a few weeks ago that the team was celebrating Wesley Chapel's first state title in Carrabelle, where the team went 4-0, out scoring opponents 44-2. That victory earned them a letter of commendation from Gov. Rick Scott and put them on the map with the state's best softball programs. The trip to South Hill, Va., last week has created a drive within the players to be the best in the country.
"I had been working toward this for four years," 10-year-old pitcher Jordyn Kadlub said. "We were mad, because we practice so much that we were heartbroken to get so close to winning it all and not get it. But it made us very hungry for next year."
Pedro Mejia, president of the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association's softball program, looks forward to the team reaping the benefits of this trip to the national tournament. He believes their performance is a reflection of the quality players Wesley Chapel has found in its short existence.
"This is big for us because it's our first time having a team in the World Series," Mejia said. "I'm hoping this will help promote the sport and get people out here to watch the girls play. Softball is one of the biggest scholarship sports for girls, so we'd like the girls to develop to that level.
"We're only in our fourth year, but everywhere we go, people are starting to recognize us," he said. "They know Wesley Chapel is coming."
To celebrate the team's success, the Angels were welcomed home Sunday by a gathering of parents and league officials. They shared memorable moments from the trip, received their letters from the governor and were informed that the team will be recognized at this year's Wesley Chapel Fall Festival.
With a deep arsenal of pitchers, the Angels generally avoided dramatic finishes along the way. Their only loss came to their final tournament opponents from Louisiana. Coaches said the Angel pitchers were the talk of the tournament.
"With our pitching we knew we were going to make a run," coach Will Coward said. "Other teams had two or three pitchers, whereas we have four or five. The girls were limited on how many games they could pitch within a certain amount of days, but because of our depth we were able to save our best arms for later in the tournament. We played a few teams that were in awe of the girls we have while they were warming up, before any hitters even stepped in the box."
One of the biggest challenges facing the girls this season was the transition from coach-pitched leagues to facing live pitching from other girls. Hitting was always going to be an issue for the Angels, and in the end, they would fall just short in that category as they were unable to drive home any runs in the final game.
"We look back on that final game and can't help but think that we were just two bats short of winning it," assistant coach Scott Kadlub said. "It was just one of those gut-wrenching games where it comes down to a big hit or an error that decides it. The first girl we faced hit a home run and that was pretty much it. They didn't make a mistake the rest of the way and we lost 2-0.
"To their credit, they've been building toward this much longer than we have, so I think they felt it was their year, but the good thing for us is that we saw what it takes to win it," Kadlub said.