When it came time for the championship game July 3 against St. Mary’s, the 8- to 10-year-old Little League softball All-Star team comprised of Hughesville Little League and the Southern Maryland Youth Organization barely had enough players to field one team.
Players opposed one another during the regular season then learned how to play together and made it all the way to the District 7 championship hosted by Northern Calvert Little League at Marley Run Park in Huntingtown and beat St. Mary’s Little League 13-8 for their first title in 16 years.
“For SMYO, it’s the first time that they have won a little league title in over two decades, since 2003,” said Lewis Payne, vice-president of SMYO and coach of the SMYO team. “So that’s why it was exciting for us because we just started our softball program just over two years ago and had the success combining with Hughesville Little League.”
The team defeated St. Mary’s in its first playoff game, sending them into the losers bracket.
“It was fun,” said Amira Brown, a rising fourth-grader who played first base in the championship game. “It felt really good. In the game we were batting first and Abby McLaughlin was also on my team. She batted first and got on base. And then after that I batted and hit it to left field. And then I made it to second and Abby got home. Then Leah Buck was up to bat and she hit it and got out, but she got me to third.”
Despite winning, Brown wanted to show good sportsmanship.
“I mean it wasn’t like you needed to make fun of them,” she said. “I like to play first the best. Lewis Payne is my favorite coach. I like him because sometimes he’s funny.”
St. Mary’s won again in the losers bracket game of the double-elimination tournament and ended circling back to the championship.
“St. Mary’s had half of the Hughesville Hustle, a U.S. AA softball travel program that operates outside of Little League,” Payne said. “Most of the girls will play Little League during the week and travel on the weekend.”
Payne, along with coaches Dave Carr and Eric Pitman, was impressed with how well the combination Charles County team did in the championship game.
“It was an exciting game because we hadn’t lost a game,” Payne said. “We beat St. Mary’s in the All-Star bracket dropping them to the losers bracket, and we had a bye, waiting for the losers bracket to finish up. St. Mary’s won to meet us again, and then we lost that game. They won by two or three runs.”
St. Mary’s was even tougher in the championship.
“The first game we played them we won by one run,” Payne said. “In the championship, double-elimination, going into the top of the sixth, we were leading by one run, 8-9. We scored another four runs that inning on two outs which put us up five. St. Mary’s was the home team and had the last at-bat, our pitcher struck out their number four hitter, and their second-to-last batter popped a ball up and the last batter struck out.
“Their number four hitter had been hitting bombs all game and it took some wind out of their sails when she struck out. But it was a back-and-forth battle.”
Jennifer Brown, mother of Amira Brown, said her daughter has learned a lot this season.
“It was her first time winning any kind of championship,” Jennifer Brown said. “The coaches came from together from Hughesville Little League and SMYO Little League team. We played together all season, and then when they did the District 7 All-Stars we joined together. Some of them knew each other and some of them didn’t and they did a good job of bringing them together.”
She added: “We beat [St. Mary’s] twice, the last time in the championships. It was a close game, but we got the better half in that game.”
The team heads to Hurlock on the Eastern Shore for the state tournament, which is scheduled to begin on July 13 against Tri-City Little League.
“The girls are excited because they will have the whole hotel experience together,” Payne said. “The girls were great. With a combination of both teams, it’s not like one carries the other. The girls combined well, with defense and batting, and with amazing plays made the coaches look better than they were.”
As a coach, Payne had to push his players outside of their comfort zones while working with a shorter than usual roster.
“You see your girls who are shortstops and second base, you have to push them to the outfield,” he said. “Isabel Clendenen made some clutch catches and watching the girls elevate and play at a higher level. The girls are better than the boys, and listen better and are easier to coach.”
Payne said that registration for Little League softball had been waning and that made winning the title sweeter.
“Little League has been going for about two years now,” he said. “We opened registration back up for softball. They hadn’t had the program in over five years. We now have a softball program and have been working with them to boost the registration for Charles County.”
Payne added: “The softball numbers have been declining for Little League in this area, so being able to combine out programs and have success is great. We are hoping to build off the success and have more young ladies come out and play softball.”
Winning a district title was the best possible outcome that Payne could have predicted this season.
“Overall, just the passion that the girls put into playing and constantly coming out there to practice and just wanting to improve every day from tryouts to spring season,” he said. “And finishing up in the all-stars the progress that they made is just a reflection on the input of coaches, players and parents. It was fun to end that way and have everyone get a taste of success.”