BLOOMINGDALE — Reaching the World Series is a staggering accomplishment.
For the Bloomingdale Youth Sports Association, it's twice as nice.
Bloomingdale's 8-and-under and 10-and-under teams each won state championships to qualify for the Babe Ruth Softball World Series, which begins July 28 at Jensen Beach.
"It has been incredible for our girls, our parents and the league as a whole,'' Bloomingdale 10U manager Larry Knowles said. "It's special enough to go, but having two teams go is extra special. What are the odds?''
"They support each other and cheer for each other,'' Bloomingdale 8U manager Paul Oderio said. "Now we're going to the World Series together. It's pretty cool.''
For the 10U team, it's the culmination of a year-long quest. Last season's team reached the state championship, but lost twice against Oviedo, a squad it had defeated 1-0 just days earlier, then faced a long drive home from Lake City.
Four players returned from that team — Leanne Allen, Emily Knowles, Leah Pabon and Camryn VanGalder — and shared a special dedication to finishing the job this time.
Bloomingdale had a difficult early round game against Palatka, winning 8-5, but the close call ignited the team's motivation and it defeated the same Palatka team 11-0 in the championship game.
"I had really high expectations for this team because I know how talented and dedicated these girls are,'' Knowles said. "You never know what kind of competition you're going to face, but I knew we were good enough to get it done.
"It's hard to characterize this team because it does everything well. We hit. We play great defense. And we pitch. I think the pitching is the key because that sets the tone and everything seems to follow.''
Knowles has generally used a three-pitcher rotation of Allen, VanGalder and 9-year-old Jansen Warbritton. They have been virtually interchangeable, all capable of starting or finishing games.
At the 8U level, pitching is not yet a factor. That level uses a pitching machine, a prelude to the following year of the girls beginning to develop their pitching skills, but it makes for an active game where the ball is constantly put in play.
For Bloomingdale's 8U team, that means lots of hits, lots of runs and lots of wins.
"We do pretty well offensively,'' said Oderio in a slight understatement for his team, which had its closest state tournament game decided by 10 runs.
Bloomingdale found itself trailing Clermont 7-3 in the early going, but then scored 20 unanswered runs to close out a 23-8 victory.
Oderio said he's impressed by the businesslike approach of his team, which does all the things necessary to win.
At the same time, he's often reminded that he's coaching young girls.
"We were getting ready to go to Lake City, about a three-hour drive, and several nights in a hotel room,'' Oderio said. "You'd watch the girls pack their spikes, their bag, their bat, their jerseys. Then they'd also pack a suitcase of stuffed animals and things like that.
"As a dad, you totally get that. As a coach, you maybe worry if they're ready to play ball. But they are great at separating things. They take care of business. At the same time, after that, they are 8-year-old girls, having fun and doing 8-year-old girl stuff. That made it fun.''
Oderio said his team is built around four returning all-stars — Casey Ayres, Peytan Benjamin, Gabby Langston and Betty Oderio — who played at last season's state tournament.
"I think we realized that if we could keep those four together, gather a few more and work together as a team, we'd had a chance to be pretty good,'' Oderio said. "We had a feeling we were building something pretty good, but everything came together at the state tournament.''
Knowles and Oderio both hope their teams can play their best softball at the World Series.
"Regardless of what happens, this will be an experience we will all remember forever,'' Knowles said. "The thing I'm hoping for the most is for the girls to continue to have fun. Sometimes, that gets lost in youth sports. The bottom line is for them to work together and give their best, but also to have lots of fun.''
Contact Joey Johnston at [email protected]