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Southern charm! New England champions focus on wins and savoring the moments

By Rick Menning

MILFORD, CT -- The wee hours of an unusually chilly August morning brought some out-of-the-ordinary sounds to the usual stillness of the night in a neighborhood within this waterfront community.

With the light from the moon beaming off the rippling waters of Long Island Sound, a group of youth softball players -- still adjusting to being awakened from their slumber much earlier than usual -- were boarding a bus and settling in for a day-long trip to Greenville, North Carolina.

ROUSING SENDOFF: The Milford Little League girls' softball All-Stars receive flowers and well-wishes from parents, fans and supporters during a very special ceremony on Monday evening at Brewster Field. (Photo courtesy of Milford Little League).

Sunrise was still nowhere in sight at 4 a.m. as the 12 athletes took their seats in the luxury coach. Parents and friends waved their goodbyes amidst lots of smiles and encouraging words as the driver prepared to hit the road.

For those on board, that road was so much more than stops to eat and stretch their legs. With each passing mile marker, the destination grew ever closer.

That destination? Stallings Stadium at Elm City Park and the site of the Little League Softball World Series.

Once the 570-mile journey was completed around the middle of the afternoon, the Milford All-Star softball standouts of ages 11-13 reached their ultimate field of dreams. There, they will face 11 other world-class squads from all corners of the globe.

"It's going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. and we're all going to enjoy it," said Holly Coon, who was the last Milford player to cross home plate with run No. 35 to cap her team's undefeated romp through the New England Region tournament in Bristol. "It's really amazing to be going to the World Series."

Two days prior to their departure, the Milford superstars received an emotional sendoff that included speeches from elected officials and those involved in the city's Little League softball program. They also ran through a sendoff line mobbed by well-wishers on both sides.

PARADE OF CHAMPIONS: Milford's Little League Softball World Series-bound athletes receive lots of hand slaps and shouts of encouragement as they run through a line of cheering parents and supporters to conclude a special sendoff night at Brewster Field. (Photo courtesy of Dawn Cosmas.)

The international competition begins on Sunday, Aug. 6. Milford will open play in the Orange Bracket against Milano, Italy of the Europe-Africa Region. First pitch is set for 4 p.m.

"We want to make sure that we win our first game and then go on from there," said catcher Marina Cosmas, who had the best seat in the house to witness Grace Weber's masterful pitching performances over the three games at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center. "It's going to be important to get a good start at the World Series."

Massapequa Park, New York (Mid-Atlantic Region), Bend, Oregon (Northwest Region), St. Albert, Alberta (Canada Region) and Guayama, Puerto Rico (Latin America Region) round out the field of six teams in that bracket.

The Purple Bracket, meanwhile, includes Bacolod City, Phillipines (Asia-Pacific Region), Austintown, Ohio (Central Region), Salisbury (North Carolina Host Region), Winterville, N.C. (Southeast Region), Hewitt, Texas (Southwest Region) and San Jose, California (West Region).

Cherish the memories

While the mission is to win games and advance as far as their talents will take them, the CT District 4, CT Section 1, Connecticut and New England champions want this to be an unforgettable week in North Carolina.

"Not a lot of people get to do what we are about to do and that's play in a World Series," said Dani Kotansky, whose double and single sparked Milford to a huge offensive display against Maine in the regional-clincher last Friday. "It's really special to be one of those people who gets to experience this, and I know my teammates feel the same way."

Prior to lining up on the third-base line for a very special sendoff on Monday evening at Brewster Field, Milford's amazing and talented squad was still at work smashing one ball after another in the batting cage as well as long tossing in the outfield.

They then went through a complete pre-game infield and outfield drill to showcase their abilities in front of a large crowd of parents and supporters. That drill did not disappoint with a perfect display of execution at their respective positions. Then it was off to a local pizza restaurant for dinner.

PIZZA PARTY! What better way to cap a perfect celebratory sendoff night then a girls' night out to enjoy some pizza. (Photo courtesy of Milford Little League.)

Manager Bryan Glynn's squad, which arrives in Greenville having already won 12 of their 13 games along this year's All-Star tournament trail, saved its biggest statement for the regional finale against Maine as they ripped hit after hit all over Breen Field. In fact, the offensive clout actually kicked up several notches starting from day one in Bristol.

"This whole (All-Star tournament) season we've been waiting for our hitting to really come through and it did at regionals," said Cayleigh Glynn, who had her share of solid contact at the plate in Bristol. "We're a really good team and we've been working a lot on our hitting recently."

Like her teammates, Glynn was so happy to see all the love at Brewster Field on Monday.

"It makes us feel really special right now to see all the banners," she emphasized. "It feels really awesome."

A new chapter unfolds

Riley Fagan-Davies, along with Emily Speringo, stepped off the bus in Greenville for the second time in as many years. Fagan-Davies is super excited about stepping onto the World Series stage with a relatively new group of girls.

"We all have each other's backs and we're all a family," she said. "When we were in the dorms up in Bristol, we really came together as a group and I think we are heading into the World Series with a really strong bond."

SOUTHBOUND LANE: The Milford Little League girls' softball All-Stars are in departure mode at 4 a.m. as they prepare to leave for the Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Donna Fagan.)

While the bats have been blazing hot, the glovework has been equally ginormous as the defensive support and the pitching of Grace Weber resulted in only three runs allowed during the entire New England Region action.

Constantly talking among themselves on the field is a big part of that equation.

"We communicate with each other on every play and say things like 'I got you' for back-up," said Holly Coon, who anchors the infield from her shortstop position. "I try to make sure that everyone knows what to do with the ball when it comes to them. We really help each other and encourage each other."

A lot of that in-game support starts with the friendships the Milford players have developed among one another off the diamond.

Brightest days ahead

Leadoff hitter Sammy Marini believes the best is still yet to come.

"We all found out how good we are with (our play) in Bristol, and I think that and our bonding helped us achieve our full potential," said Marini, whose ability to reach base from the No. 1 spot in the batting order paved the way for so much team success. "Getting to experience (the World Series) with all my friends is going to make it really special."

After watching from the Stallings Stadium bleachers as her sister Maddy played on the Little League Softball World Series diamond last summer, Emma Bonanno is super excited to be in that role starting on Sunday.

"Last year, I went to Greenville as a fan so this year I'm looking forward to seeing it from the other side as a player instead of being in the stands," Bonanno said. "It's great that I'm actually going to be on the field and be able to experience what (Maddy) experienced."

In terms of team chemistry, Bonnano shared the secret sauce to her team's ability to perform at such a high level.

"Our team gets focused in a different way. We connect with each other though silly things and laughing and stuff like that," she said. "We're very close and we got even closer by being in Bristol and I think that's going to help us in Greenville."

Holly Coon is emphatic that the New England champions have big plans for their stay in North Carolina.

"I think we're going to go really far; we're a really good team," she said. "We have the bats, we have the infield, we have the outfield, we can bunt and we have really good pitching. I think we're going to do great!"

Watch party on Sunday

Tribus Beer Co., Milford's first brewery and taproom, will be hosting a very special watch party this Sunday, Aug. 6, at 4 p.m., when the Milford Little League All-Stars take the field against Italy.

A large gathering is expected as the 11-13 age group girls open play in the Little League Softball World Series.

Tribus Beer Co. is located at 100 Raton Road. in Milford.

Best of luck, New England!

Milford 12-Under Division Little League Girls Softball New England Champions Team Roster: Emma Bonanno, Maja Brown, Holly Coon, Marina Cosmas, Riley Fagan-Davies, Cayleigh Glynn, Dani Kotansky, Sammy Marini, Addie McKenna-Hansen, Audrey O'Connell, Emily Speringo and Grace Weber.

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