Orchard Mesa Major Girls seek to prove team from Colorado can succeed in Southwestern Little League Regionals
One breakthrough down, one to go.
Orchard Mesa’s Major Girls fastpitch softball team accomplished something this summer that was decades in the making for Orchard Mesa Little League: It won the Major Girls state tournament and advanced to the Little League Southwestern Regional in Waco, Texas.
Now, the collection of 11- and 12-year-olds wants to do what Colorado fastpitch teams rarely do in the regional: win.
Driven by that desire, the Orchard Mesa Major Girls began the trek to Waco on Monday. Players, coaches and parents are carpooling, breaking up the 17½-hour drive over two days. Then, they’ll practice today and open play Thursday, 8 p.m. Central Standard Time.
“We’ve achieved our goal, which was to get there,” Orchard Mesa manager Rich Gellermann said, adding this is the first Major Girls team to go to the regional in Orchard Mesa Little League’s 51 years. “Now, we’ll see how we stack up against those big Texas girls down there.”
Orchard Mesa will find that out immediately. Awaiting in Round 1 of the double-elimination tournament is a Texas-sized test: the team from Texas East. Gellermann said Texas has so many districts, the state is split into two regions, Texas East and Texas West, that send teams to the Southwestern Regional.
Gellermann said Colorado’s reputation in the regional is that of an afterthought. The other states don’t worry about getting past Colorado. He thinks he has a squad that can change the perception.
“We plan on going down and winning a game, if not a couple,” he said. “We’re good enough to do that.”
His confidence stems from the balance he sees on his team. It has pitching, hitting, speed and experience.
Putting it another way, Gellermann said, “We don’t have a weak spot on this team.”
Orchard Mesa has two good, hard-throwing pitchers, Megan Rubalcaba and Melissa Gellermann, Rich’s daughter.
“Our pitching is solid,” Rich Gellermann said. “Melissa and Megan have great ball movement. They locate the ball very well. They spin the ball very well.”
They’ll need constant focus, too, he said, because Nos. 1 through 9 in batting orders at the regional level don’t have weak links.
“You can’t take a single pitch off, not one,” he said. “That No. 9 is probably just as good as No. 1.”
So, Gellermann will tell his daughter and Rubalcaba, “Never take a pitch off. Don’t get lazy.”
Melissa Gellermann probably has that message ringing in her ears, and she understands the challenge.
“I don’t want to throw directly down the middle,” she said. “I want to put it on the corners.”
Proper pitch placement yields the ground balls and fly balls that Orchard Mesa’s fielders can make plays on, she said.
Because Melissa Gellermann believes in Orchard Mesa’s pitching and defense, she says, “I think we can win as long as we can hit.”
The good news there is Orchard Mesa players tend to list that first among the team’s strengths.
“I think we’re best at hitting,” Rubalcaba said. “I think we’re really good (against) fast pitching, and we’re used to seeing it.”
“We have a lot of good hitters,” first baseman Camryn Sanchez said, adding it helps that Orchard Mesa’s hitters get to practice against Melissa Gellermann and Rubalcaba every day.
Rich Gellermann said the first four batters in his order are where the power is, but the rest of the lineup is filled with solid hitters. They might not be hitting for extra bases, but once they get on base, they have a penchant for getting into scoring position soon after because of their next strength:
“We’re super, super fast. We have so much speed,” Rich Gellermann said. “None of them are slow.”
Operating at another level above everyone else, though, is Sanchez.
“She’s so blazing fast, it’s unbelievable,” Gellermann said. “When you see Camryn run, it’s a thing of beauty. If she’s (in scoring position) and you can put the ball to the grass, she’s going to score.”
That speed shows on the bases and in the field, as Melissa Gellermann said Orchard Mesa’s outfielders are quick to the ball and get it back to the infield to take away possible extra-base hits.
Seven of the 11 players on the roster play together on the Lady Cobras 12B competitive fastpitch team.
They’re familiar with each other and have traveled to tournaments and played in higher divisions against older girls.
The chemistry and experience make a difference, according to Sanchez, who added she has played with many of her teammates since age 8.
The team also has a member with regional experience. Rubalcaba was on the Grand Mesa Major Girls team that went to Waco last year. She knows what awaits.
“I learned it’s a totally different ballgame down there,” she said. “It’s so much harder.”
The pitchers are better, and the hitters hit the ball harder than what teams are exposed to in western Colorado.
“Those are the two main differences,” she said.
That said, Rubalcaba said she loves the challenge that is ahead, and she believes Orchard Mesa is up for it.
“I think we can accomplish getting to the semifinals,” she said.
Rich Gellermann likes that attitude.
“I guarantee there are people are sitting around saying, ‘They’re going to go down there and get walloped,’ ” he said. “If Melissa and Megan do what they can do, what they’ve done all year long, (opponents are) going to have to play well to beat us.
“We’re going for some wins, possibly win it. We’re not ruling that out.”