GULFPORT — Consider Bloomingdale manager Jerry Schinella the Nostradamus of the Little League softball world.
Two years ago, Schinella coached a Bloomingdale 9-and-under softball squad to the district final. Mike Bell, with his own Bloomingdale 9U team, was in the opposing dugout for that championship.
As the game unfolded, Schinella could see a lot of talent on the two teams. And he knew most of those players would become one cohesive Bloomingdale team once they reached the majors (ages 11-12) level.
Schinella predicted the Bloomingdale majors would reach the Southern Regional in Gulfport, two summers before the team even existed.
"I thanked the girls after we won states for proving me right," he said.
Today, Schinella, with assistance from Bell, will manage most of those same girls as Bloomingdale opens play — 4 p.m. vs. Wayne, W.Va. — in the tournament at the Southern Region Complex, the last such softball tournament to be held in Gulfport.
Bloomingdale qualified by defeating three teams in group play at state by a combined 32-4, then edging Keystone (Tampa) 7-6 in the semifinals and Windermere 4-2 in the final.
"We jumped out to a 4-0 lead against Windermere and had to hold on," Schinella said.
Bloomingdale's success is due largely to a deep, efficient pitching staff. Regular starters Savannah Bradley and Bree Schinella provide a 1-2 punch, while Brianna Roman and Emily Whitworth supply additional support.
"I've even got more pitchers I could throw out there in an emergency situation," Schinella said.
The bats have heated up, too. Since the start of the playoffs, Bloomingdale is hovering around .350, Schinella said. Bradley, in particular, has been crushing the ball. She hit three home runs in the state tournament, including two back-to-back in the semifinal.
"This is a fun team to coach," said Schinella, a seven-year Little League softball veteran managing his first regional qualifier after three state appearances. "No attitudes, everybody gets along, and they're all focused."
Plus, it's safe to say they'll have a fair amount of luck on their side.
Monday, the team made stuffed bears at a mall.
"We'll probably bring one into the dugout, like a mascot," Bree Schinella said.
They'll also fashion the same shade of toenail polish, along with matching hair ribbons, for superstitious reasons.
"Probably SpongeBob or Dora," leftfielder Rachel Farinas said.
The right combination of fortune and skill could find Bloomingdale in Tuesday's championship game with a trip to the Little League World Series (Aug. 7-13 in Portland) at stake.
"I can't say that I'm surprised to be here," Schinella said. "This was one of our goals when we started.
"We felt we could go a long way."