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Auburn Little League Juniors Softball Dynamite nab state title
Before the season even started, Perry Azevedo and his Auburn Little League Juniors Dynamite all-star softball team knew it would be their last shot at Little League glory.
With all of the members of the squad either in high school or poised to start their prep careers next year, and their manager, Azevedo, ready to hang up his spikes after 12 years with the league, everyone felt the urgency.
"A lot of these girls we've coached before, some of them since they were seven or eight years old," Azevedo said. "A lot of them came up from the majors team from last year. And a lot of them are from my club team (the Surge). They decided that, because it was the last year, they would do little league this year, also."
Now, a little more than a month since the Dynamite began tournament play, the girls are on the cusp of achieving the ultimate prize – a trip to the 2014 Little League Juniors Softball World Series — and a shot at the championship.
But first the team has to fight its way out of the Western Regionals, which begin July 31 in Tuscon, Ariz.
To earn its spot, the team captured the Little Washington State Juniors softball title on July 17 in Shoreline. It was the league's first softball state title.
Coming into tournament play this summer, Azevedo said, he was confident about the team's on-field talent, but at the same time, he understood that it would take more than raw athletic ability to go the distance.
"You never know what's going to happen when you bring them all together," he said. "Before the district tournament started, we knew they had the talent, we just wondered if they were going to have it between the ears. They're 14, so who knows? But they just started coming together."
After the team beat its first-round district tourney opponent, South Hill, 17-1, Azevedo said, he realized that he had a group of winners on his hands.
"People were coming up after and saying, 'Great job, coach.' And I just thought, hey, this is easy. I'm just a cheerleader on the field."
Riding the arms of No. 1 starter Kaitlyn Rhoades and closer Brianna Azevedo, and the on-the-field leadership of catcher Laurel Tauzer, the team ripped and tore its way through the field of opponents in the district tourney and then the state tourney.
Indeed, the Dynamite swept the state field at Meridian Park in Shoreline, opening with an 8-5 win on July 12 over the Bainbridge Island all-stars, and continued its winning ways with a 12-3 thrashing of the Woodinville National league team from District 8.
Auburn wrapped up play in the state tourney with two wins over the District 1 champs from Lake Stevens/Granite Falls, with scores of 5-1 and 14-1 on July 15 and 17, respectively.
In addition to the efforts of his battery – all offensive contributors as well – Azevedo credits his team's offensive output, including that provided by Emily Bartholomew, Megan Perius and Taylor Hanson.
Key to the team's success to date, however, say Rhoades and Tauzer, has been chemistry and unity.
"It's a lot of mental work," Rhoades said. "We work hard as a team and don't get down on each other. Before every game, we'll get together and have a pep talk about how we need to get in the game mentally. Physically, too. We just always think what can we do to get better. And we always say 'why not us?'"
"We're very together as a team, I would say," Tauzer added. "We have worked through some problems, and that has made us closer communication wise. We're getting better at picking each other up, and that's an important part of the game — knowing you're together as a team and they are behind you. When we got to state, I really saw everyone focus because they really wanted it bad. I hadn't seen that type of focus from this group of girls yet, and it impressed me."
The double elimination Junior West Regional Tournament starts July 31 and ends Aug. 8 in Tuscon.
Auburn opens with a 5 p.m. July 31 game against the Idaho state champs.
The winner of the regional competition moves on to the 2014 Little League Juniors Softball World Series, Aug. 10-16 at Everest Park in Kirkland.
The team hosts a Go Fund Site to help defray travel expenses to Arizona. To help, visit www.gofundme.com/brkyfk.