Girls continue Wesley Chapel’s new winning ways
By Kyle LoJacono
Wesley Chapel Athletic Association (WCAA) is starting to establish itself as a regular on the national softball stage.
Last year, the WCAA Angels all-stars, which included players ages 9 to 10, won the Dixie softball state championship, qualified for the World Series and finished as the national runner-up. In 2012, it’s the Darlings carrying the Wesley Chapel banner for the country to see.
The Darlings (8-0), ages 7 to 9, claimed the state crown July 16 in Carrabelle, earning a berth in the World Series. The girls from Wesley Chapel went 5-0 at the event while outscoring their opponents 66-33.
“I knew they had the ability,” said Darlings coach Mike Garrison. “A lot of the players were from my team from the regular season. The others I saw in the season, and from the first practice you could see their talent.”
Much like Little League, Dixie all-star teams are formed after the regular season. Mike was an assistant on the Darlings squad last year, along with four returning players.
States started out with a bang for Wesley Chapel, defeating Okeechobee 10-0. Mike said their defense, which is a strength of the squad, helped carry the day.
The Darlings had an offensive explosion on Day 2, defeating Holmes County 11-6 and Marianna 22-19.
The second contest was a nine-inning marathon, four frames longer than a regulation game.
“The bats were huge on Saturday,” Mike said. “There were big hits up and down the batting order.”
Wesley Chapel also hit six home runs during the contests, one from Madison Baxter and the other five from Ashley Garrison, Mike’s daughter.
Ashley’s homers were all inside the park, requiring her to run hard from the first step out of the batter’s box.
“I’m not really sure how it happened,” Ashley said. “Basically I know not to think about it and just run.”
The fourth game came with a shift in Wesley Chapel’s defense. Even though coaches throw to their own batters in the age group, pitchers are still limited to 11 innings at the position during the tournament.
The doubleheader and extra innings the day before used many of the frames for WCAA’s regular pitchers Alexia Littleton and Madelyn Golka. Mike turned to left fielder Hailey Margetis to take the defense spot, helping Wesley Chapel defeat Belleview 15-2.
The Darlings faced Holmes County in the championship game, which turned out to be the closest for Wesley Chapel in the event.
“The first inning was really scary because it was the championship game,” Ashley said.
WCAA shook off the nerves, thanks in part to defense from catcher Sophia Santana.
“I was throwing behind my catchers gear on every ground ball to get it and throw them out,” Santana said. “I just kept thinking I need to get an out; I need to get an out.”
WCAA had an 8-6 lead in the final frame with two outs when the Holmes County batter hit a fly ball to left field, where Golka was camped underneath.
“It was really high, and there was a lot of sun,” Golka said. She added, “I just wanted to catch it.”
She did, giving Wesley Chapel the state title.
“That ball was in the air for about a half an hour,” Mike said. “She’s a very confident player, so we all had confidence she would catch that ball.”
Along with the state title, the Darlings earned the Louise Jordan Sportsmanship Award, which was voted on by the umpires and scorekeepers. The Wesley Chapel Angels, who finished as the state runner-up, also picked up the honor.
Mike said WCAA’s success the last two years at states shows how Wesley Chapel is growing athletically.
“It’s a young community with a bunch of young families and young kids,” Mike said. “Two seasons in a row to nationals, that’s pretty good.”
The Dixie Softball World Series is in South Carolina July 28 to Aug. 1. For information on the WCAA softball league, visit wcaa.countmein.com/Home.aspx and click the baseball and softball link under programs tab.
Mike Garrison, coach
Chris Marks, assistant
Joey Rodriguez, assistant
Bill Wark, assistant