The girls on the Canal Little League softball all-star team were elated when they won the District 2 Tournament earlier this month and moved on to compete in the state tournament.
However, their dream of advancing to regionals ended on the field at the Smyrna-Clayton Little League complex when Laurel defeated Canal for the second time in the double-elimination tournament.
The players, coaches and families made the trek home disappointed they couldn’t repeat the accomplishment of the 2017 Canal all-star team that won regionals and went on to place third in the Little League World Series. Instead, they took solace in the fact that now their summer vacation was officially underway.
Or so they thought.
On July 18, Canal Little League officials received a phone call notifying them that the team was in fact advancing to the regional tournament after it was determined Laurel used an ineligible player who did not live or attend a school inside the boundaries of Laurel Little League. Camden-Wyoming, which lost to Laurel in the state final, declined the opportunity due to the quick turnaround. Canal then accepted the invitation without hesitation.
“The girls are extremely excited for this tremendous opportunity that they get to represent Delaware,” manager Megan Hackett said shortly before leaving Delaware.
The coaches, players and families spent last Friday packing and preparing for the unexpected but welcomed trip to Bristol, Conn., where they represented the First State in the Little League Softball East Regional.
“When we first found out on Thursday night, we were very excited just because we know how great of an experience it’ll be for them,” Erica Rice, whose daughter Peyton plays on the team along with nieces Leah and Paige Richardson, said during a phone interview while traveling to Connecticut on Saturday morning.
Rice played on the Canal team that advanced to the World Series in 1994, along with her sister and sister-in-law. Her niece, Brooklyn Richardson, was a pitcher on the 2017 Canal all-star team.
“This opportunity doesn’t come around often, and for our family to have this experience that they’ll remember forever is so amazing,” Rice added. “We still talk about our experience in 1994 and we know this will be an opportunity and experience that they will also talk about 30 years from now.”
Peyton relayed her excitement from the back seat.
“I got to hear about the great experience Brooklyn had two years ago, and I’m very excited to do the same with my cousins,” she said.
While the Canal families spent Saturday traveling to New England, four of the six regional teams opened up play in Bristol while Canal and a team from Pennsylvania waited to learn their Sunday opponents. Shortly after they settled into their hotel rooms, Canal found out it would face New York, 12-2 winners over Maryland. Unfortunately for Canal, the girls from the Empire State turned in another dominating performance, defeating Canal 10-1.
“Well, it was not what we were hoping but I also think the score was actually worse than how they actually played,” Hackett said shortly after the game concluded. “We were a little rusty out there. We hadn’t played for a while. The girls were extremely nervous about being on television. But I told them after the game, ‘We got that all out of the way now and tomorrow we’ll come back strong.’ I think they can pull it off.”
With the loss, Canal moved into the loser’s bracket and had to play on Monday afternoon against a Rhode Island team coming off an elimination-game win the night before. Canal jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning and added a third run in the third. That would end up being all the scoring for Canal, and Rhode Island rallied with two and four runs in the top of the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, to come away with a 6-3 victory.
“The girls came out with a different vibe during the game today,” Hackett said. “They were able to put the nerves and television cameras aside and just play. We were quick to score early in the game, and defense was on point. Despite starting out strong, we faded later in the game and couldn’t pull out the win.”
As she sat back and reflected shortly after returning home to Newark, Hackett was able to put into words just what this opportunity meant to her team.
“Having the experience of playing against and meeting other players from other states was the goal of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “Regardless of the outcome, the girls had an amazing experience that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives."
Assistant coaches were Roger Richardson and Dave Anson. Players were Kennedy Pavlekovich, Ashlee Feeley, Natalie Hackett, Colleen Anson, Samantha Noonan, Amanda Hammond, Sabrina Stecher, Paige Richardson, Leah Richardson, Peyton Rice and Rihana Joswick. Alyssa Kirby and Isabella Brown played on the team through the state tournament, but were not able to make the trip to regionals.