The United States women’s national soccer team is not the only female sports team making waves this summer.
The Allentown/Upper Freehold/Millstone 8U softball team, a team of eight year old all-stars from the Upper Freehold Baseball & Softball League, is enjoying its own scintillating ride to national prominence.
On June 30 in Schwenksville, Pa., the Allentown/Upper Freehold/Millstone 8U squad beat Delran’s 8U all-stars, 14-13, in the Mid-Atlantic regional championship game.
The victory earned the Allentown team a spot in the Babe Ruth World Series starting on July 25 in Florida’s Treasure Coast region, a collection of counties along the Atlantic Coast in the Sunshine State.
With a roughly similar collection of players, Allentown fell short of the Babe Ruth World Series the last two summers. But it broke through in 2019 because it learned to bounce back from mistakes and defeats.
The girls came together to start practicing as a team on Jan. 2. So over months of training and playing games together, they have developed into friends who cheer each other on and pick each other up during tough moments.
Before the Mid-Atlantic regional, Allentown lost to Delran in the Babe Ruth South New Jersey Tournament championship game. But then it recovered to beat Delran twice in the regional tournament.
“Our girls were confident, they moved on and fixed their mistakes,” said Allison Tate, the mother of one of the players, Gabby Tate. “It was cool to watch them win those two games.”
Some 38 year olds don’t respond well to adversity. So for a bunch of eight year olds to do it is very impressive. Allentown’s coach, Erick Simonds, credits his six core players, who have been on the team for the last three years, with providing great leadership.
The five core players are Tate, Katelyn Franckowiak, Savannah Barry, Kaity Zambrio, Julia Centanni and Annalie Simonds, Erick Simonds’ daughter.
“The team jelled and played better over time,” Erick Simonds said. “The other girls had never played with the core group before, but they became friends.”
The rest of the squad may not have played with the core group in previous years, but they clearly made the difference this year. Sophia Reiner, Luci Franzone, Jayleen Guidel-Hallahan, Alyx George, Bella Maltese, Nneka Ezenia, Danielle Cropanese and Taylor Sweeney filled out Simonds’ roster, and they all contributed in their own ways.
But the core group still gave the team its foundation.
Tate led off and held down the pitcher’s circle, since eight year old softball leagues use a machine to actually pitch. Franckowiak played third and batted cleanup. Barry manned first and hit third.
Zambrio played short and brought speed to the top of the lineup. Centanni raced around the outfield and batted in a variety of lineup spots. Annalie Simonds provided catching and clutch hitting.
But almost every great champion has that last key player who pushed the core group to the top of the mountain. Simonds said Maltese was that player for this Allentown team.
“When you see her making outs at second and double plays, things eight year olds shouldn’t be able to do, she’s a big contributing factor to our success,” he said.
The coach has hit on a special group that will represent Allentown on a national stage this summer. Since they are still so young, he also thinks they will continue to rep Allentown for years to come.
“If we’re able to keep the core group together they are going to be very successful,” Erick Simonds said. “They trust each other, believe in each other and lift each other up.”