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6 players from 2019 Little League World Series softball team helped South Williamsport win at Elm

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette South Williamsport players celebrate with each other on the infield at Elm Park during a game against Montgomery. South Williamsport’s youth came through big as players such as Sage Lorson (left), Alizabeth Schuler (second from left) and Abby Lorson (second from right) played key roles in the win.

They played in front of a nationwide audience last summer, finishing a remarkable run as the United States’ third-place finisher at the Little League Softball World Series. They became local celebrities and lived a dream.

Then they went back to work. The South Williamsport Little League all-stars barely took a day off before preparing for their junior high softball season.

Six of those East Regional champion athletes played Wednesday night in the Elm Park Town League against Montgomery. The venue was smaller and less than 100 watched them this time, but the results were the same. They all shined, going a combined 11 for 19 with eight RBIs and 12 runs scored in an eye-opening 24-1 win.

And the common denominator between both these summers has been hard work, desire and talent combining to produce some impressive highlights.

“They play hard and they love the game. They have a passion for it. If they had to practice every night they would. That’s the way they are,” South coach Tom O’Malley said. “Not only are they athletic, but they just love the game. They are so passionate. It makes it easier as a coach because they just want to get better.”

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette South Williamsport's Lilly Reidy beats the tag at home from Montgomery catcher Shelby McRae on an in park home run in the second inning.

That is why those players never stopped working once returning home from Portland, Oregon, last August. They achieved something so few ever have, but that group also does not want that run to be the apex of their softball journeys. They want more highlights, more wins and more opportunities.

If they build off what they did against Montgomery, they certainly will have an opportunity at achieving future greatness. Montgomery featured six starters from a 2019 District 4 Class A finalist which went 17-4. Montgomery is a good, well-coached team which also has a bright future.

What happened Wednesday was not about Montgomery doing something wrong, but those six Little League World Series participants — all entering eighth grade this fall — doing so much right. Alizabeth Schuler, Sage Lorson, Abby Lorson, Lily Reidy, Gianna Goodman and Emily Holtzapple all made big impacts and played pivotal roles in South delivering such a well-rounded performance. All reached base and scored at least one run with five producing multi-hit performances.

In addition to hitting so well, that group also defended well with Schuler, Sage Lorson and Abby Lorson combining on a third-inning double play. Schuler also threw four shutout innings in relief and struck out four.

“It helps us because we’re seeing older pitchers and more experienced players,” Reidy said after going 3 for 3 with a triple, double and three runs scored. “It’s getting us ready for high school.”

“It helps us to experience what we’re going to see in the next few years,” Sage Lorson said following her 3 for 4, four-RBI performance. “It helps us just get better.”

That is this group’s main focus. As great as last year was, these players are looking ahead. O’Malley has gradually worked them into Town League action and many also are playing travel softball against older age groups.

History is filled with teams which dominated at the youth level and achieved some wonderful honors, but did not duplicate that success as they grew older. Some grow content, but not this group. Softball is what they love and whatever price needs paid for future success, they will gladly pay it.

“Their work ethic is really off the charts,” said O’Malley, who is joined by assistants Cory Goodman, last year’s Series-qualifying manager and Adam Lorson, one of last summer’s coaches. “They all have great attitudes and they all want to get better. They’re hungry to get better, each and every one of them. They’re very coachable. They’re good kids and their athleticism speaks for itself.”

The scary thing is not all those Little League World Series players were there Wednesday night. South is busting with youthful talent and no seniors played against Montgomery. There also are several promising underclassmen performing well who will combine with this group in 2022 to form quite a potent mix.

And really, there is not much which can shake the Series participants. They have played in front of millions, competed against some of the world’s best teams and been through so many pressure situations. That does not ensure future success, but it sure helps having that experience.

“Having so many people around us and being on TV, it helped us know that if you make a mistake, its OK because there’s still a lot of game left and you have a whole team behind you to help you out,” Lorson said. “If you make a mistake you can just look at one of them and they shoot you a smile and then you feel better and then the pressure is not as bad.”

“They have so much game experience. You can hit grounders all day long, but it’s different when you get out there in the game and there’s so much going on,” O’Malley said. “They’ve been on national TV and in those situations and that experience helps so much.”

The experience South gained playing junior high softball last fall helps as well. The lesson the Series players learned there was that everyone was coming after them extra hard. Rivals were watching last summer and they wanted to prove their worth against this excellent team.

That is something South likely will encounter over the next five seasons. It is a challenge, but these competitors always have accepted those with open arms and is ready to do so moving forward.

“There’s a huge target on our backs now,” Reidy said. “It shows us that we have to do our best each game.”

Above all the production these players provide, that is what O’Malley likes most about them. Whatever the situation, he knows those players will be giving him his best. Having that mentality going along with the electrifying talent creates quite a future foundation to build upon.

South did something its community will never forget last summer. Keep progressing and those players might create many spring-time memories as well in the coming years.

“I can’t say enough good things about them,” O’Malley said. “They are a pleasure to coach.”

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