The Junior Spirit have not yet played their first meaningful World Championship game, but it has already been a memorable trip.
In the week since they arrived in Clearwater, Florida, for the XII Junior Women’s Softball World Championship, the Australians have had their practice game schedule thrown into chaos by rain and lightning.
When they have managed to get on the field, they have impressed Head Coach Kerrie Porter with their form and attitude.
“Since arriving in Clearwater, we have been pretty busy,” Porter said. “There have been practice games against Netherlands and NZ, training and scrimmaging against each other. The weather has been a little unpredictable with a number of thunderstorms and rain, which cancelled the other three practice games planned.”
The Junior Spirit will open their campaign with a morning game against Peru, then go back to the field for a night game against the Netherlands.
Porter said the players had managed some meaningful practice sessions and games, despite the uncooperative weather.
Game 1 vs Netherlands: “This was the first game that the Junior Spirit had competed together and there was some great team hitting, solid defence and pitching, which led to a solid win.”
Game 2 vs NZ: “This game was delayed by an hour due to lightning in the area. Again a solid workout for the athletes and another chance to work with each other. The game ended in a 4 -4 draw.
Game 3 vs NZ: “In what was to be their final warm-up game due to washouts, the Junior Spirit had an impressive start to the game and showed positive improvement in all areas, and came away with the win.”
Further warm-up games that had been scheduled against Japan and Italy were rained out.
The players have also been busy away from the practice fields. On Tuesday the team took a road trip to the other side of Florida to Space Coast Stadium to watch a professional game featuring the Chicago Bandits, who have seven Aussie Spirit athletes on their roster. “The Junior Spirit enjoyed watching the pros play and catching up with the Spirit girls,” Porter said.
On Friday night, they went to Tropicana Field to watch a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers. “A great game with the highlight being the Junior Spirit athletes singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame on the Jumbotron at the seventh-inning stretch. An experience that will be remembered for a very long time.”
The Opening Ceremony was held at Clearwater Beach on the eve of the tournament, with former USA softball star Michelle Smith acting as host. The 26 participating teams got to mix with each other in a relaxed environment, and the night ended with a fireworks display over the beach.
Porter said three players had been selected to the Junior Spirit Leadership Group.
Gabbie Plain: “Brings extensive experience at this level to the group. Leads from the middle with her calmness and composure.”
Tamieka Whitefield: “Leads by example through her actions and softball smarts.”
Bree Trim: “Brings energy, enthusiasm and willingness to compete.”
The Junior Spirit also selected the “Keeper of the Flag” a person responsible for hanging up and taking down the flag in the dugout at each training session and game. “Tia Waters was given the honour of this role,” Porter said.
The 26 nations in the XII WBSC Junior Women’s Softball World Championship have been drawn into four pools and will play a round-robin to begin the tournament.
Pool A: Chinese Taipei, Guatemala, Italy, Philippines, Turkey, South Africa, USA.
Pool B: Australia, Bahamas, Brazil, Israel, Japan, Netherlands, Peru.
Pool C: Argentina, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, India, New Zealand, Puerto Rico.
Pool D: Canada, China, Great Britain, Ireland, Korea, Mexico.
The top two teams in each of the pools will advance to the championship round robin, which will consist of two pools.
Australia finished seventh at the 2015 event in Oklahoma City, where USA won gold, Japan silver, and Puerto Rico bronze.
The official tournament schedule features a total of 99 games, which will be played over seven days. The final will be next Monday, Australian time.
The World Championship will have live streaming and play-by-play available via the tournament website.
Porter hopes Australian softball fans will rally behind the team. “Thanks to everyone for your support and please like and follow our Facebook page Junior Spirit Softball,” she said.