Manly Warringah Softball Association U/16s have claimed the NSW State Championship after beating arch-rivals North Shore 9-2 at a packed Blacktown International Sportspark.
Heading into the grand final it was widely agreed that Manly were underdogs.
North Shore was stacked with veteran NSW representatives and top-age players. They had bundled Manly out of the competition early in 2021. They had blitzed all in their pool games and went into the decider undefeated.
Manly, meanwhile, had 11 of 15 playing in U/16s for the first time. Their training schedule was disrupted by rain, forcing them to improvise in indoor facilities and on muddy fields.
Manly was even missing their head coach, Jannette Edgtton, because the tournament had been postponed because of rain.
Manly was off to a nervy start in the pool games when they ran up against the formidable bats of eventual third-place finishers Sutherland (who also picked-up six MWSA players to help them reach the state championships).
Yet the Manly girls kept their cool and suppressed a late surge to win 7-6.
They were then undefeated across five games including another tense 7-5 win against Cumberland, with Manly managing a three-run rally in the final inning.
So, the scene was set for a Sunday evening showdown.
Manly supporters were over the moon that the girls had gotten into the grand final yet few dared to dream they could win against the mighty North Shore team.
But the Manly girls showed that true team spirit can triumph over anything.
Throughout the muddy and rain-dodging training sessions and the early pool games, the girls pushed each other to be better, to work together, to support each other, and to have fun as a team.
And the coaching team of Alli Edgtton, Rochelle Sangster, Trish Fox and Hannah Barlow, together with manager Kellie Cohen, were quietly confident that the girls could do it.
They had been scouting the North Shore games to probe for weaknesses. They had a game plan in place.
All this was evident in the grand final. The girls were remarkably calm and relaxed, they came together as a team, and got better and better through the game.
The fielding was flawless, and Manly steadily put unanswered runs on the board. One in the first inning, one in the third, and three in the fourth.
While the girls held their nerve on the field – coming together on the mound to gee each other up and perform deep breathing exercises – the roar from the dugout got louder and louder, unnerving their opponents.
At times it felt like Manly had all fifteen players on the field, overwhelming the North Shore team and giving them little opportunity to show their might.
As Manly edged ahead, they grew even stronger as a team. Everyone made vital contributions. They put four more on the board in the final innings, and stayed steady even when North Shore fought back and got two late-innings runs in.
When the umpire finally called time, supporters were still in shock that they had done it. But the smiles and celebrations among the girls confirmed it. They were proud State Champions!
It was only then that the girls found out their head coach Jannette had been watching on livestream all along – and a teary celebration took place between the team and coach – via Facetime!
“Congratulations to all the MWSA U/16 team and supporters on an amazing achievement,” MWSA president Doug Freeman said.
A replay of the game can be watched here on Facebook.