The Girls of Summer nab Robbinsville Little League’s first World Series championship
It’s a question every elite athlete must face.
After years of training to be the best in the world, what happens once you reach the pinnacle?
For third baseman Alexa Petito and her roommates, it was eating pancakes at midnight. For pitcher Mackenzie Medders, watching “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.” For catcher Shea Walsh, some relaxation before school started.
Whatever their requests, the 11- and 12-year olds on the Robbinsville Little League softball team had earned it. With its 4-1 against Bossier City, Louisiana, Aug. 13, the Storm ended its summer with 22 wins, no losses and Robbinsville’s first Little League Softball World Series title. In the nine weeks it took to get there, the athletes managed to transcend the softball and RLL communities, bringing pride to township residents who had no stake in the results aside from living inside the same border as the team.
“It brings tears to my eyes,” township councilwoman Chris Ciaccio said. “I feel like they’re my girls.”
Ciaccio wasn’t alone. Consider that a few dozen adults watched the championship game at a township watering hole, and—when RLL won—toasted the title with champagne. Or that, the next day, Ernie’s Tavern on Main Street had banners hanging outside congratulating the team. Or that an update announcing the team’s championship on the township Facebook page received 60 comments in a matter of hours.
Amazon, Matrix Development Group, Sharbell and PBA Local 344 donated thousands of dollars to help offset costs for the athletes and their families to travel to the tournament in Portland, Oregon. Some businesses in Foxmoor Shopping Center hosted a RLL Night Aug. 13, welcoming fans of the team and donating a percentage of every sale to the team, as well.
Friendly’s owner Lee Paroly said the turnout to his restaurant that night amazed him, with people thanking him for supporting the team. It made sense for Friendly’s, as part of the community, to become involved, he said.
“It’s as exciting for all of us as it is for the kids,” Paroly said. “They worked hard to get where they are, and they deserve it.”
It was clear that despite this being the fourth team from Robbinsville to qualify for the World Series, it had received as much—if not more—support from the community as RLL’s World Series teams from 2008, 2010 and last year did. There was recognition the team’s win could mean something for the township as a whole.
“It’s leaps and bounds for the town to be recognized like this,” said Robbinsville Police detective Bryan Boccanfuso, president and state delegate of PBA Local 344. “It put us on the map.”
Less than 24 hours after claiming the championship in Portland, the team returned home to Robbinsville. A three-car police escort met the team bus, and led it to the front of police headquarters. A crowd of more than 50 well-wishers awaited the team with signs and balloons, filling the small parking lot. Township business administrator Joy Tozzi and state assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo held up a sign that said, “Robbinsville, NJ 2014 Little League Softball World Series Champions.”
Team members filed off the bus one at a time, each one receiving cheers. The athletes seemed stunned by the welcome, smiling and waving in front of the bus. Then, suddenly, members of the crowd rushed forward to greet the returning heroes.
Among the first to run forward was Robbinsville resident Shanna Calabro, who wrapped RLL third baseman Alexa Petito in a hug. Friends with Petito’s older sister, Calabro said she closely tracked the progress at home, even attending a game-watch event at the township senior center Aug. 11. Such is life in Robbinsville, where every summer “They win last night?” becomes as common as “How’re you doing?”
“It’s so intense,” Ciaccio said. “Everyone is talking about it. You forget that they’re 12-year-olds.”
The accolades came from around the state, too. Gov. Chris Christie issued his congratulations on Twitter, saying the girls “make N.J. proud.” Former Trenton mayor Douglas Palmer donated $1,000 to an online fundraising effort, commenting he admired the team’s skill, aggressiveness and teamwork.
The Storm made aggressive play its trademark, endearing the team to people beyond Robbinsville and New Jersey. Even the play-by-play team for ESPN2, which aired the last two rounds of the World Series, couldn’t help but compliment the style.
“From the start, we were really aggressive,” said Shea Walsh, the catcher. “Every base matters.”
It came down to logic for RLL, where each base meant being a base closer to winning, every error could mean defeat.
The approach typified what Robbinsville Little League has become known for—clockwork softball. The athletes practice or play every day, know strategy, avoid typical kid summer things like swimming or going to the beach. The parents are in on it, too, carefully stockpiling days off from work during the year—they never know if they may need those days to travel to tournaments in Connecticut and Oregon.
It’s a routine parents like Debbie Petito know very well. She has made the trip to the World Series three times, following daughter Michaela there in 2010 and Alexa the past two years.
And as much as the title and the reception pleased those involved with the team, there also was relief that it was finished now. They now had the most important thing. They were home.
“I think everyone’s tired,” Walsh said. “It’s been a lot of softball, but we powered through. Now, we’re all going to relax.”