TAMPA — Emilee Mezrah could have been on vacation in the Bahamas playing in the surf.
Instead she’s on vacation in Georgia playing softball in the dirt.
Beach vs. softball …
"I chose softball," said Mezrah, a seventh grader at Coleman Middle School. "Riding and laughing on a bus with new friends, going together to Georgia, playing softball, trying to make it to the World Series. What could be better than that?"
"It’s awesome," seventh-grader Shelby Savitt said.
"The best," said Addy Swink, yet another middle-schooler.
Meet the South Tampa All Stars — 12-and-under division combining players from Bayshore and Tampa Bay Little Leagues — recently crowned state champions, who will soon head out on a bus to Georgia for the Little League Southeastern Regiona, which begins Thursday.
What do these girls know about the regional opponents from Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina? How do they fell about the fact that ESPN will be televising the games? Feeling any pressure perhaps?
"I’m a little nervous," Swink said. "But I don’t feel any pressure. It’s more excitement than anything."
South Tampa manager Brian Mezrah, father of Emilee, said he’s made the focus on playing hard and having fun, not necessarily on winning the games, a formula, of course, that has led to winning games.
South Tampa, in fact, is 8-0 through the district, sectional and state playoffs, defeating several teams, Mezrah said, that might have had more talent, and five times defeating those teams after trailing them.
In the state championship game, for instance, South Tampa trailed Orlando Windermere Little League 6-0 before tying it up, then losing the lead 7-6 in the top of the sixth inning (the last inning in Little League games).
With two outs and no one on in the bottom of the sixth, South Tampa’s Elizabeth Breen singled, Mezrah beat out an infield single and Swink sent a shot deep to the fence, sending home Breen and Mezrah with the tying and winning runs.
Final score: South Tampa 8, Windermere 7.
"That’s why we call ourselves the comeback kids," teammate Lauren Callahan said. "We never give up."
Mezrah repeated that it comes down to attitude, as in every South Tampa player and parent has a healthy one.
"We all work together well and everybody just wants to enjoy the experience," said Mezrah, who played at Tampa Bay Little League in the 1970s and has coached at TBLL the past seven years. "We’ve had a great chemistry from the start."
Callahan said at the team’s first practice about a month ago that the players from Bayshore and Tampa Bay Little Leagues pretty much stayed in their respective league groups, warming up together and so forth.
"But soon we were all mixing it up," Callahan said. "We quickly came together as a team. We are all friends now, working together."
Ultimately, the goal is to get through regionals and move onto the World Series in Oregon the second week of August.
"That would be incredible," Savitt said.
Swink added, "Amazing."
Contact Scott Purks at [email protected]