TAMPA — On a small softball field in New Tampa, a group of 12 teenage girls has made history.
The North Tampa Athletic Association, formerly known as New Tampa Little League, has qualified a team to play in a world series for the first time in the league’s 15-year existence.
The North Tampa All-Star softball team will play at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the 2014 Babe Ruth League 16-Under World Series in Pittsfield, Mass.
“It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” said Darcy Gott, the team’s pitcher. “There’s nothing like it.”
“It’s really exciting and a good experience,” said Alexandria Dixon.
Pool play in the 15-team tournament will continue through Friday. A double-elimination bracket begins Saturday, with the championship scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m.
But what makes the accomplishment more intriguing is the North Tampa players aren’t actually 16. Babe Ruth did not offer a 14-under world series, and rather than seeing their season end after a state title, the coaching staff and league president decided to play at the 16-U level, meaning many of the team’s players, who are 13 and 14, are playing against athletes nearly three years older.
“Why not make this run and go as far as they could?” said Kevin Mc-Kay, the team’s manager and whose daughter, Casey, plays first base.
To reach the world series, the team won its district, the 16U state championship and advanced to the southeast region. The team lost to a program from North Carolina, but still received an at-large bid to the world series. The team is 8-2 entering this week’s tournament.
“Playing against bigger teams, it feels good when you beat them,” said catcher Ysabella Dominguez.
Perhaps at a disadvantage due to their age, the all-stars have relied on their fielding, base running and speed in the outfield. Gott has been solid on the mound and with Dominguez, provide power hitting in the batting order.
One of the team’s advantages, however, is chemistry. Many of the players have played together the past six years in New Tampa.
“It’s kind of like the Rays,” said coach Tino Dominguez, Ysabella’s father. “You don’t have three or four diamond blue chippers, but you have nine players that play together. This is essentially because they’ve played together since they were 9 years old.”
This year’s all-star team was selected from a pool of 36 players on three teams in the NTAA.
Many of the players had to forgo their travel ball seasons to commit to the all-star team. For some, this is their last series of games before they head to different high schools. Dominguez will head to Wharton in the fall. Gott, only an eighth-grader, will play for Freedom.
“It’s boosting our confidence for high school,” said Dixon, who will also play at Wharton.
Win or lose, the parents and coaches want the players to cherish the experience.
“You can’t put a price on going to the world series with your daughter,” Tino Dominguez said.
Gott asked her parents for a trip to Australia if the team wins the world series. Despite playing on the biggest stage in her young playing career, she’s confident North Tampa will be victorious.
“Not nervous at all,” she said.
To help the team pay for its world series expenses, visit northtampaathletics.com