Catcher Cali Wisnosky and her Tunkhannock teammates, from left: Piper Robinson, Elaina Kulsicavage, Paige Marabell, Julianna Roote, Ella McNeff, Kaya Hannon, Erin Van Ness, Serenity Kerr, Sydney Huff, Hannah James, Alexis Gilroy and Emily Patton are headed to the Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon. - Submitted photo
Tim Hannon took a group of 8-10-year-old softball players from Tunkhannock as far as they could go in 2016 – all the way to Dallas, about 17 miles south on Routes 29 and 309.
Regional play among state champions in the east is as far as Little League extends the softball season for that age group, but the daily rides to the Back Mountain that summer – the team had traveled farther around Pennsylvania on the way to its state championship – sparked something in the talented group of young ladies.
Each August, millions around the world follow the progress of the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport. Multiple players from Tunkhannock’s team educated themselves on the Little League Softball World Series and found out Portland, Ore., was their goal destination.
Hannon said he knows multiple players on his current team followed the available Internet and television coverage of the Little League’s premier softball event.
In the wee hours of Monday morning, the Tunkhannock Little League softball all-stars will board an airplane in Philadelphia for their trip to Portland and this year’s Little League Softball World Series, which is scheduled to start Wednesday and continue through Aug. 15.
Tunkhannock earned that shot by losing just once through district, section, state and regional tournament championships on the 11-12-year-old (Majors) level this year.
The roots of competing as one of the top 10 Little League teams in the world began to take hold in the regional event, which moved around various Luzerne County sites for the past four years. Tunkhannock finished in a three-way tie for first in its pool at the 2016 regionals, but finished on the bottom end of a tiebreaker and missed out on the two berths in the semifinals.
Kaya Hannon, Cali Wisnosky, Paige Marabell, Ella McNeff, Sydney Huff, Alexis Gilroy, Julianna Roote and Elaina Kulsicavage all played on both the 2016 state 10-year-old champions and this year’s team that won the East Regional championship in Bristol, Conn., July 27 with its third straight one-run victory.
In the two years since, they have been joined Emily Patton, Erin Van Ness, Hannah James, Piper Robinson and Serenity Kerr.
“There are girls who have had their eye on playing there (in Portland) since we went as far as we did two years ago,” Hannon said.
In the 10 days between tournaments, the girls have received plenty of attention and have been the subject of various fundraising efforts. Their families have tried to regroup from trips to Caln Township in Chester County and Connecticut and deal with the expenses of last-minute flights across the country and more city hotel rooms.
There have also been practices to be ready to take on a field of five U.S., four International and one host team.
“We’re keeping sharp,” Hannon said. “We’re keeping them mentally focused on why they’re going out there.
“There’s a lot of extra attention drawn to you from the media, local news stations and businesses that want to offer different things to the kids. They’re all good things, but for 11- and 12-year-old kids, they are all things that could distract them from being ready, so we’re just trying to keep them focused and physically sharp in terms of hitting and fielding.”
Little League takes care of the travel plans and expenses of the players and coaches.
Part of the community reaction to the accomplishment of the 13 girls is the effort to assist their families, who have already invested travel money in the earlier steps of the trip.
A gofundme.com page started prior to regionals and entitled “Help 13 Girls Take On The World!” had raised $32,435 of its $55,000 goal as of Friday night.
The players met their on-field goal by advancing through a tense series of games.
The pitching of Kaya Hannon and clutch shortstop play of Ella McNeff have been a big part of getting through low-scoring games.
Williamsport provided tough competition on the 10-year-old level two years ago and many of its girls have also stayed together, forming the team that handed Tunkhannock its only loss early in the sectional tournament. Tunkhannock came back through the elimination bracket to post the back-to-back wins over Williamsport necessary to move on to state play.
Tunkhannock beat Pittston Area twice, including the state championship game, then with television factoring into the modified double-elimination format used to create a one-game championship at regionals, it was vulnerable to being knocked out by a single poorly timed loss.
Cranston, Rhode Island, came out of the elimination bracket to force Tunkhannock, unbeaten at regionals, into an extra inning in the championship game that Tunkhannock won 2-1 in seven innings.
McNeff’s one-out bunt in the seventh induced a throwing error that allowed her to race all the way to third before beating the throw home on Kulsicavage’s bunt.
Kaya Hannon went 4-0 with an 0.96 ERA at regionals, giving up only 11 hits and seven walks while striking out 36 in 25 innings. She began pitching as a 7-year-old and receives personal training from former Elk Lake High School and Columbia University pitcher Brooke Darling and Brooke’s father, Terry.
James led the team in hits at regionals, going 5-for-8 (.625). She had the team’s only triple.
Marabell was 4-for-11 and had two of the team’s three doubles. Huff, who was 3-for-9, had the other.
McNeff had four hits and led the team in both runs (three) and RBI (three).
Van Ness went 3-for-7. Wisnosky was 3-for-10 and scored twice.
Catcher Cali Wisnosky and her Tunkhannock teammates, from left: Piper Robinson, Elaina Kulsicavage, Paige Marabell, Julianna Roote, Ella McNeff, Kaya Hannon, Erin Van Ness, Serenity Kerr, Sydney Huff, Hannah James, Alexis Gilroy and Emily Patton are headed to the Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon.
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