Thursday, December 14, 2017
Sports

Wesley Chapel softball team bound for national tournament

WESLEY CHAPEL — Blessed with a lack of egos and a plethora of talent, the Wesley Chapel All-Stars Ponytails are state champions on a quest for national glory.

Coach Phil Perez has seen his softball players overcome bad innings and big deficits to win both the district and state tournaments in the last two months.

His team of 11- and 12-year-old girls has several strong arms, and as the girls prepare for their trip to the Dixie League World Series in Louisiana, pitching is what Perez believes will be the difference maker.

"We've got four girls who can take the mound at any time and be relied upon to throw strikes," Perez said. "That's the name of the game. ... We've played some great defense this year. We're going to need it because at this tournament, we won't be killing teams. They're the best from their state so it's going to be tight games."

Perez recalled the first game of the state tournament where the girls trailed 5-2 after four innings. With the midday heat beating down, second baseman Kristen Gregorich snapped up a ground ball and in one motion tagged the runner heading to second and threw out the hitter at first. It would re-energize her team and spark a late-game rally that saw the girls score seven runs in two innings.

"It was just one of those plays that woke everyone up," Perez said. "After that game I think their confidence exploded because now they know they can come back from being down."

The Dixie League World Series is a double-elimination tournament among state champions from around the country. The girls face at least six games against top quality opponents and are eager to prove themselves.

"I don't think we've faced these kinds of opponents yet, so it's going to be interesting," outfielder and pitcher Kristen Gay said. "I think it's going to be an exciting trip just hanging out in the hotel and experiencing the travel together.

"We're a strong team and we have a lot of confidence in our ability. But the other teams have to be good too and probably feel the same way, so we maybe need to think that we're just the same as everyone else in the tournament."

Perhaps the biggest reason for their success has been everyone's willingness to accept a team ethic and avoid breaking down into cliques, he said.

"We don't have a superstar really," Perez said. "The girls have all bought into the team concept, and they stick together, as do our parents. This kind of thing isn't possible without good parents, and this group all get along nicely. There is no animosity in this team anywhere, no yelling or getting down on each other. They aren't just a team; they're really friends."

The players' parents attribute a lot of the success to Perez's coaching. His style of blending fun with work is something the girls and parents enjoy, said Jennifer Hudson, mother of player Payton Hudson.

"I think coach Perez's style of coaching is fantastic," Hudson said. "It's serious and he keeps the girls busy, but they have a lot of fun. I think this memory is going to be the best part of the whole experience for the girls. They may never travel to something like this again, so I'm excited for them. They have a really good chance to do something special against some good competition."

Comments
Does UCF have a shot at a split national championship?

Does UCF have a shot at a split national championship?

Reader Ken Kueker asked a great question yesterday:"If UCF beats Auburn in the Peach Bowl, what do you think of voting them #1 in your AP ranking?"My short answer is the obvious cop-out: It depends on how UCF looks (is it a triple-overtime win o...
Updated: 3 hours ago

North shuts out South squad in Pinellas All-Star Football Classic

CLEARWATER — The players had so much fun, officials at Clearwater High School literally had to turn off the lights post-game to get everyone to go home.With more than 60 talented and motivated seniors participating in Wednesday's 23rd annu...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Marchand rallies Bruins by Wings

Marchand rallies Bruins by Wings

DETROIT — Brad Marchand assisted on the tying goal late in regulation and scored the winner 35 seconds into overtime to give the Bruins a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings on Wednesday.The Bruins managed only two shots on goal in the first period but tw...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Tampa Bay Rays making progress in trade talks

Tampa Bay Rays making progress in trade talks

Without getting into specifics – especially the who and the where – Rays officials are for the first time talking optimistically about making a trade before the winter meetings end Thursday.Speaking at around 5:15, senior VP Chaim Bloom s...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Winter meetings journal: Rays trade for money to sign top international free agent

LAKE BUENA VISTA — While most of the business conducted at the meetings impacts the big-league team one way or another, the Rays are working to finalize a move they hope pays off big sometime in the 2020s.In trading Wednesday to acquire $1 million in...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 3 – updated with news

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 3 – updated with news

UPDATE, 5:55: Trade talks apparently picked up this afternoon, perhaps related to previous activity by other teams, and for first time Rays officials sound like something could happen tonight."At this point today, some of those conversations are movi...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Market starting to set itself as Rays’ trade talks intensify

Market starting to set itself as Rays’ trade talks intensify

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Alex Colome claimed he was just showing good social media manners Tuesday night in following four Cardinals-related Instagram accounts since they were saying nice things about him.In doing so, whether for that reason or another mor...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Market starting to set itself

Market starting to set itself

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Alex Colome claimed he was just showing good social media manners Tuesday night in following four Cardinals-related Instagram accounts since they were saying nice things about him.In doing so, whether for that reason or another mor...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Times wires

INDIANAPOLIS — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday. Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finis...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Thursday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingSuper Bantamweights: Salgado vs. Diego De La Hoya10:30 p.m.ESPN2College basketballBethune-Cookman at USF7 p.m.820-AMValparaiso at Northwestern8 p.m.Big TenSouthern at Baylor8:30 p.m.ESPN2College volleyball, NCAA semifinalsNebraska vs. Penn...
Updated: 8 hours ago