Eight members of the Sunnyside junior league softball team had their 15 minutes of fame last summer, when the team won the Little League World Series.
Although most of the team has already performed on the big stage and in front of their fans, the pressure is still present — even without ESPN cameras rolling.
“There’s a little bit of nerves, and I asked the girls why,” Sunnyside coach Manny Tapia said. “We had over 300 fans at the (semifinal) game against Alaska.
“It gets them nervous, only because they want to show the fans what they can do.”
Undefeated Sunnyside plays Southern California at 5 tonight in the Western Regional championship game at Arthur Pack Park Field No. 2. The team, based out of Mission Manor Park on Tucson’s south side, has a clear advantage heading into the final day. Sunnyside can clinch the title with the win but would have to lose twice to be eliminated. A Southern California win in the 5 p.m. game would set up a second game at approximately 7:30 p.m. tonight.
The regional champion will advance to the Little League World Series, beginning Sunday in Kirkland, Washington. The series will be on ESPN.
The eight players on the team trying to get back to the big stage are Yannira Acuna, Danitza Aguirre, Alexis Anderson, Arlett Arreola, Zuleika Barnett, Viviana Orantez, Angel Sallas and Alex Tapia.
Matt Tapia said the team’s strengths are the pitching staff’s ability to control and limit baserunners, and the offense.
“Our pitching is pretty unstoppable,” Tapia said. “We got a bunch of hitters. Every girl in the lineup can get a few base hits.”
Sunnyside has gone undefeated through two district, three state, and three regional games, outscoring its opponents 97-21. More impressive than the numbers are the bonds: Tapia said the girls have formed a sisterhood.
“Most of them have been playing together for almost eight years now; they have each other’s backs,” said Tapia, who was also with the team last year as an assistant. “They treat each other like sisters. They have a lot of heart.”
The heart was on display in Wednesday’s semifinal against Alaska. Sunnyside fell behind by two runs early but rallied back and won the game 3-2 on a walk-off RBI single by Arreola. The hit scored Amaya Turner from second.
While getting back in front of the TV cameras would be nice, Sunnyside hasn’t made that a point of emphasis.
“They love that stage, being out on ESPN; the girls loved it,” Tapia said. “But that’s not a big priority. Defending the title, going back-to-back is what they really want to do.”