A group of 13 girls in 2019 represented Mesa and all of Arizona in the Junior Little League Softball World Series, an opportunity of a lifetime that brought success on a national stage.
The girls, who were selected for the All-Star team through Four Peaks Little League in Mesa, mad a run to the quarterfinals in Kirkland, Wash. before they were eliminated from the tournament. While they fell short of their ultimate goal, it’s a moment they knew at the time would be something they could reflect on forever.
Now a year-and-a-half later, many of those girls now inhabit high school softball rosters. And one program in particular, Mountain View, has reeled in the benefits of having the former All-Star players.
“A lot of this game is played between the ears,” Mountain View softball coach Nikki Short said. “I think if you don’t have confidence in yourself it’s going to show. I think the experience they had in the World Series, putting that confidence and chip on their shoulder, then making varsity as freshmen and now as sophomores are starters, it’s huge.
“Having that type of confidence and talent to go with it has definitely helped.”
Six girls from the Four Peaks All-Star team now attend and play for Mountain View. Several of which have emerged as starters in their first two years with the program.
Ava Finn, a sophomore infielder for the Toros, was part of the Little League team that made a run to the World Series. She played a key role then and continues to do so now for the Toros batting .353 with 3 RBI and a home run.
She said the 2019 World Series comes up often in conversation between her and her fellow teammates. Sometimes it involves their favorite memories from the trip and other times about what they could’ve done to keep their championship hopes alive in their final game. The experience overall is something they continue to cherish and has motivated them to chase the same type of success with Mountain View this spring.
“It was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Finn said of the World Series trip. “We all got closer as a team and had a lot of fun. We communicate really well on the field and our energy is always really high. That’s what has helped us keep it going.”
Sophomore infielder Devin Bowman was also part of the 2019 Four Peaks team. The trip to the World Series came just months before her inaugural season with Mountain View began.
However, due to the pandemic, that was cut short.
The unexpected time off gave Bowman and the rest of her team a chance to improve their individual skills. Many went the club softball route throughout the summer and fall to prepare for the 2021 spring season. Some of that improvement has been on display for Bowman already this year with one of the team’s highest batting averages of .696 with 21 RBIs and 3 home runs.
“I just try my best every day,” Bowman said. “I want to be the best I can be for my team. I think we are all so close and super good friends and that kind of just goes right into the game. We play for each other.”
Finn and Bowman aren’t the only girls from the Little League All-Star team now making an impact for the Toros.
Sophomores Sydney Vaughan, Mandi Bluth, Rylee Liljenquist and junior Maddy Bleak were all part of the World Series team now playing for Mountain View.
One of the stats from the 2019 World Series tournament run that stood out the most for the Mesa team was its offensive display. The team outscored its opponents 64-15 in the West Regional tournament that year, which clinched their trip to Washington.
Much like they did in 2019, the players have been key for Mountain View’s onslaught at the plate this season.
Through seven games the Toros have outscored opponents 108-10, averaging just over 15 runs per game. The team’s only loss this season came in a 9-5 defeat to Red Mountain, one of the top teams in the state. Against Westwood on April 9, Mountain View gave up its 10th run on the year in a 19-1 win.
“This group of players loves each other,” Short said. “They don’t get sick of each other. They feed off or one another and pick each other up when they’re down. That’s something that no amount of talent can replace but when you add talent to it, that’s what really elevates them.”
Despite the team’s early success, there are still plenty of opportunities for Mountain View to prove itself as a title contender this season.
The Toros took on eighth-ranked Liberty this past Tuesday and traveled to face Pinnacle Friday, the top-ranked team in the 6A Conference. Mountain View also faces Red Mountain, Basha, Desert Vista and Queen Creek to finish the season, all of which are ranked in or near the top 10.
Each player knows it won’t be an easy task to chase a championship. But they’re confident in their chemistry to help lead the way to success, just like they did in 2019.
“We have to make sure we don’t drop down to anyone’s level,” Short said. “We want to make sure we play our game. Looking forward we don’t take any game for granted. Our goal is always to keep the bats hot, and the rest will follow.”