Either being the third best softball team in the world or sightseeing in one of the country’s most beautiful areas would have been enough.
Combined, they made for the trip of a lifetime for the Robbinsville Little League 12-year-old all-star softball team.
“This is something we’ll always remember forever,” Robbinsville pitcher Brynn Hopkins said. “It’ll definitely keep us together and close.”
Robbinsville spent 11 days in Portland, Oregon, the host of the World Series, and found time to explore the Portland area in addition to competing at the highest level for 12-year-old softball. In their time off, they went to waterfalls and a lake at the top of a mountain, and went swimming, and canoeing and paddle-boarding.
“It’s been a whirlwind, it really has been,” RLL manager Jon Iorio said. “When you mix in all the fun things outside of softball—the Portland area has so many things to offer. We did so many things as a team…The stuff outside of softball alone, they bonded even more than with all the practices and games we’ve been playing together as a team. It’s a beautiful part of the country. The kids and the parents got to experience things you don’t normally get to experience on the East Coast. Every day we had something different going on.”
The team consists of Hopkins, Jillian Hutt, Ella Iorio, Alexa Klepper, Shea Krebs, Kenzie Martin, Kailey Pacifico, Sofia Papa, Vanessa Sabol, Becca Siracusa, Aubrey Strand, Bella Truelove and Gwen Wells. Iorio is the manager, and coaches are Joe Hopkins and Steve Krebs.
Reaching the World Series almost has become an annual tradition for Robbinsville. This year’s group was the fifth in eight years to make the World Series.
“As much as we’ve heard about it,” the elder Hopkins said, “none of us have been out here, we saw it on TV with the prior girls, but it was awesome to be out here and experience it for themselves and for them to have their time. We got lots of input from the older girls, lots of tips on what to do and what not to do, but overall the experience was theirs and that was very, very special for them.”
Robbinsville, the East Region champion, finished third overall when it defeated the Central Region champions from Michigan, 3-2, on Aug. 17. The only two teams to beat Robbinsville—the Southeast Region champion from North Carolina and the Southwest Region champions from Texas—played in the championship later that night with Texas prevailing, 5-1.
“Third place is amazing in the world,” Robbinsville catcher Ella Iorio said. “We could beat both those teams, but I guess we didn’t. I think we just had a bad two games.”
Robbinsville went 5-2 overall, finished, earned third overall, was second in Pool A and represented their district, section, state and region well in the first World Series appearance for this group of girls.
“I think it was even better than expected,” Brynn Hopkins said. “I didn’t fully realize how nice everything was. On TV, everything looks smaller. The field was so pretty and big.”
Robbinsville finished second in Pool A which included teams from the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Oregon and Texas. Pool B featured teams from the Philippines, British Columbia, Michigan, North Carolina and Utah.
“All the levels are different, when going from district to sections to states to regions,” Jon Iorio said. “They’re all different. This is the ultimate experience. The fact there were international teams here and teams from all over the country is so different.
“If anyone has ever gone through what we experienced, it’s something you’ll never forget,” he added. “It was truly a wonderful experience. At the end of the tournament, after having met so many people—the tournament officials, the umpires, coaches and players from other teams—we were hugging people we met two weeks ago like we’d known them for years.”
Robbinsville had the first day of competition off and didn’t play its first game until nighttime on the second day. They took advantage of that down time to do some sightseeing. The Robbinsville contingent went to Multnomah Falls, the second largest waterfall in the United States.
“I liked the Multnomah Falls,” Ella Iorio said. “It was really nice. I like hiking. It was amazing. The waterfalls were beautiful. The water was so clear. It was such a good time with my friends.”
They toured downtown Portland, sampled world famous Voodoo Doughnut and had a chance to play in Lost Lake, looking up at Mount Hood.
“That’s what we’re really good at,” Brynn Hopkins said. “We definitely make sure we even things out with everything. And we make sure we have a good time.”
Robbinsville opened the pool play Aug. 11 with a 16-3 win over Europe-Africa representative Noord-Holland. Hopkins had three hits and two RBI, Klepper had two hits and three RBI, Siracusa had two hits and Iorio had 2 RBI. Krebs pitched three innings and struck out three and Hopkins pitched one inning.
They defeated the Latin America representative from Puerto Rico the next afternoon, 10-0. Hopkins allowed only three hits in five innings, Martin had three hits and Hutt and Hopkins had two hits apiece. Martin also drove in a pair of runs.
Robbinsville’s only loss in pool play came against eventual World Series champion Texas. The Southwest representative edged them 4-1, with all four runs coming in the fifth inning. Robbinsville rallied with one run in the top of the sixth inning but it ended with the tying run at the plate. Klepper and Truelove had two hits apiece and helped generate their only run when Klepper scored on a single by Pacifico. Robbinsville outhit Texas, 5-4, but it made five errors. Only two of Texas’s runs were earned against Hopkins.
“We had one bad inning,” Jon Iorio said. “We showed we can play with them. They got the better of us that one day, and we were really hoping to get to see them again in the bracket play. It never came to be. We did fairly well in bracket play.”
In their final game of pool play, Oregon took an early 2-0 lead before the Robbinsville girls rallied and pulled away in a 10-3 win. Iorio had two hits and two RBI to lead Robbinsville. Hopkins struck out 11 in a dominant performance.
The championship round began with a 10-0 win over Pool B No. 3 seed Utah. Hopkins had two hits and four RBI, and Truelove and Iorio also had two hits apiece. Hutt, Martin and Hopkins all scored twice apiece to help Robbinsville advance to the semifinals that were televised by ESPN.
“They handled themselves well,” said Jon Iorio. “They had fun with it. It was cool. It was definitely a new experience for them. I’m proud of them. They did great.”
After falling behind, 2-0, in the first inning of the semifinal against North Carolina, Robbinsville settled down to allow just one run the rest of the game. The Robbinsville bats, however, never got going as North Carolina lefty Taylor Walton recorded 11 strikeouts in the 3-0 defeat of Robbinsville.
“We didn’t hit like we normally do,” Jon Iorio said. “They have a very good pitcher on Southeast, she throws left-handed so that might have befuddled some of the kids. We see left-handed pitching, but we haven’t seen it the caliber of this kid, Walton. We struck out more times in that game than I could ever remember. We’re a team that puts the bat on the ball, and we just didn’t in that particular game.”
Robbinsville took a thrilling 3-2 win over Michigan to capture third place in the World Series. Martin, Papa and Pacifico scored the runs as Hopkins, Siracusa and Krebs drove in a run apiece. Michigan scored a run in the first inning, but Robbinsville answered back in the second inning. Robbinsville got another run in the fourth and one in the fifth, but Michigan stayed close with a run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Hopkins struck out the second out in the bottom of the sixth and final inning with the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base, then Krebs threw out the final out to help bring the bronze back to Robbinsville.
“I cannot be prouder of these girls,” Joe Hopkins said. “They’ve overachieved, not only met our expectations, exceeded, so thankful for the town and all their support. The town has been completely awesome. I can’t say enough about how overwhelmed we are with all of their support. It was fantastic.”
The final night in Portland was spent celebrating the week that was with all the other World Series teams. It made for a memorable close.
“It was really fun,” Ella Iorio said. “I met people from different states and countries. I talked to people in different languages. It was outside of softball so I talked about what their actual life was like. I learned about what other people do outside of softball.”
Uncovering another side of their World Series opponents made for the perfect ending to a trip that gave them a bit of everything wrapped around the top softball tournament.
“It’ll make us closer as a team,” Brynn Hopkins said. “We’re not just teammates. We’re all a bunch of best friends. It should definitely help us.”
It was a memory to last a lifetime, added Ella Iorio.
“It was so fun,”she said. “All the memories that we made, all of us cried at the end. It was happy and sad. It was our last Little League game. I think it was worth it. We got all these souvenirs, all these pins, and when I look at them, it’ll take me back.”