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September 20, 2019

On Top of the World: Junior League Softball World Series

By Maggie Rodriguez

She was scared but calm. Stressed but focused. Number 10 had just been pulled from the bench to sub in for an injured hitter. With the Junior League Softball World Series championship at stake (bottom of the last inning) her team trailing, Emilee Mezrah took a deep breath and tried bunting. She missed. Strike one. Her next bunt went foul. Strike two. Only one more chance to bring in the runner on third base to tie the game.

The 14-year-old had been preparing for this pressure-cooker moment for nine years, playing softball since the age of 5, with and against many of her all- star teammates. Over time, each girl developed the same winning work ethic. “You have to put in the work to get where you want to go,” says infielder Teagan Riley. She devotes herself to “practice, practice and then more practice.” Left- fielder Madisen Waters says that good enough is never good enough. “You can’t say ‘I’m fine where I’m at’. You have to keep working to get to the next level.”

The South Tampa All-Stars were hand-picked from Interbay Little League and Tampa Bay Little League—a rockstar team to represent their city on an international stage. For two grueling months, they travelled across the country, playing other American and Canadian teams, as well as some from Asian countries.

“We just kept working hard the entire time,” says pitcher Lindsey Chadwick. “You always have to be focused on winning. You can’t assume you’re going to blow out any team.”

The All-Stars suffered brutal losses that took them to the brink of elimination, but survived because of the strength of the team. Each girl stepped up in clutch situations, each one proving why she deserved a spot on this elite squad.

Everything they had worked for culminated in the final inning of the final game— down, but not out yet. “I had no doubt in our team,” Emilee says. “I was never thinking we couldn’t come back.”

But could she deliver? With two strikes, she did the unexpected: bunted again. The gamble paid off. The tying run came in; Emilee reached first base. The next hitter crushed the ball. Emilee shot out like a bullet, and “the speedy Mezrah”— as the ESPN announcer dubbed her on national television— crossed home to score the game-winning run. She did it! They did it! The girls from South Tampa beat the Southwest All-Stars from Texas in a walk-off, 7-6.

“Everyone starts crying tears of joy,” remembers Chadwick. “We can’t believe we just did that because we worked so hard the whole entire year, and all the years before, to get to this point.”

Tampa Bay is now home to the champions of the world— the best junior league softball team on earth. It’s made up of 14 fierce fighters—including the girl on the bench who seized her opportunity to shine and helped lead her team to a victory they will never forget.

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