As pictured, the Pride 14U team is: Bottom row (l-r): Marissa Blassic, Kylie Lewis, Allison Raylean, Heidi Schmidt, Lizzy Mazorowicz - Middle row (l-r): Briana Lee, Alexis Powell, Andria Gietl, Abby Jewel, Kelli Janiczek, Julia Salata, Ayanna Martin - Back row (l-r): Asst. Coach Bob Lee, Mgr. Rhonda Raylean, Head Coach Jim Gietl, Asst. Coach Rick Schmidt
As a successful follow-up to their runner-up finish in the state USSSA tournament, the Plymouth-Canton Pride 14 and Under team represented the Plymouth and Canton communities and the State of Michigan well at the USSSA World Series held July 27- August 2 at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex and other venues around Orlando Florida. Their strong third-place finish among 53 teams representing every section of the country was the strongest World Series showing ever for a Pride team. The Pride began pool play on Sunday, July 27 with a rain-shortened 4-2 victory over the Jacksonville (FL) Bandits, and completed pool play on Monday with a hitting barrage that carried them to a 9-1 victory over the York (PA) Ballhawks and an 8-0 win over the Ohio Valley (Tipp City, OH) Storm.
After an off day, the Pride’s bats stayed hot on Wednesday as they opened double-elimination bracket play with a win over another Michigan team, the Romeo Renegades, by a score of 8-3.
Thursday promised to be a tough day, as it became necessary to “win or go home” – and weaker teams in the tournament were being eliminated. The Pride certainly found that to be true. In their first game of the day, against the Indy Vipers of Danville IN, the Pride fell behind early by a 1-0 score, which held up until the Pride took a mid-game lead with a 2-out, 2-run single by Julia Salata, and added an insurance run on a solo home run by Alexis Powell. That run proved to be necessary, as the Vipers scored a late run, and threatened to score again in the last inning before Brianna Lee completed her exceptional pitching performance by shutting down the Vipers’ attempted rally, preserving a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
The evening game against Montgomery (NY) Devils Blaze proved to be an even tougher test for the Pride. They fell behind early, 1-0, but Abby Jewell held the Devils to just that one run until the Pride came to life to tie the game 1-1 on a mini-rally started with a base hit by Allison Raylean, followed by a double by the Pride’s most consistent hitter in the tournament, Heidi Schmidt. With Brianna Lee on in relief late in the game after the strong performance by Jewell, the game remained tied through regulation, and advanced to the International Tie-breaker format, by which each team begins their offensive half of the inning with a runner on second base. The Devils began by advancing their runner to third on a sacrifice bunt, and pushed her across with a daring suicide-squeeze play executed with a two-strike count on the hitter. Lee slammed the door after that, sending the Pride back to the dugout with the need to score one run to stay in the game. Alexis Powell immediately responded with a shot down the left field line, scoring the Pride’s runner, Lee, to re-tie the game, and putting the winning run in scoring position. A walk to Kelli Janicek and a wild pitch later, the Pride had runners on second and third. The Pride’s Julia Salata then bunted, and the Devils wisely chose to pick up the ball without making a play to prevent the run from scoring, which loaded the bases for Abby Jewell. After working the count and staying alive by fouling off several pitches, Jewell was hit on the thigh by an inside fastball, with the pain quickly replaced by the joy of realizing she had just knocked-in the winning run in a dramatic come from behind 3-2 victory.
The Pride began Friday play with the knowledge that they were stepping up to increasingly tougher competition, and were up to the challenge in their first game, a 6-2 win over the Churchville (MD) Lightning, a game that featured Brianna Lee’s third over-the-fence home run of the tournament, a two-run shot that staked the Pride to an early 4-0 lead.
Unfortunately, the Pride later found that Lightning and Thunder do not mix – in their second game of the day, they fell to the eventual tournament champ, the Hanover (VA) Thunder, losing by a 7-2 score. The Thunder was clearly the class of the field, as they allowed only 5 runs in the entire tournament, two of which were scored by the Pride.
The Pride entered Saturday play with the need to win against the Central (Des Moines) Iowa Impact in order to stay alive for a rematch with the Thunder, but could not rally from the previous days defeat, a rash of pre-tournament and in-tournament injuries, and against a team that was clearly better than them on that day, ended their tournament with a 9-1 defeat. The Impact later lost to the Thunder 4-0 in the tournament Championship game.
The Pride’s 7-2 tournament record, with their only losses to the first and second place teams, was truly a team effort, with timely contributions from every member of the team. The team received the 14 and under age group Sportsmanship Award as determined by tournament umpires and officials, and three players: pitcher Brianna Lee, catcher Kelli Janicek and shortstop Heidi Schmidt were named to the All-Tournament Team. Strong performances were turned in by several other Pride players, notably Alexis Powell, with timely power-hitting and great hot-corner defense, and Abby Jewell, with two strong starts in Pride victories and by truly being in the right place at the right time in her hit-by-pitch RBI in a crucial Pride win.
The Pride 14’s have completed one of the most successful seasons in organization history, compiling a 65-28 record with two tournament titles, a runner-up finish in the USSSA State Championships held in Canton, and their strong World Series performance. The future is bright for the Pride organization, and for all the players on this Pride 14 and under team.