A league of their own

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The Colchester Thunder pose for a team photo. Back row L to R, coach Brian Carey, Allie McBride, Ana LaBelle, Anya Davis, Haylee McGowan, Kiera McCullagh and coach Lori McBride. Front row L to R, Eliza Fischer, Kaylie Duarte, Elzie Carey, Addy Fane-Cushing, Anna Fiekers, Allie Lewis and Sullie Martiniuk. (Courtesy photo)

All-girl baseball team dominates season 

Eight-year-old Ana LaBelle stepped up to the plate grinning last Thursday, pink eyeblack underlining her unwavering gaze. Her ponytail swayed methodically as she turned the aluminum baseball bat over in her hands.

LaBelle’s teammates, 11 other girls roughly the same age, watched the action unfold intently from a makeshift dugout, many chomping on massive wads of bubblegum like their big league counterparts.

Eight-year-old Allie McBride steps up to bat at a Colchester A-Minor little league game last Thursday. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

The little league game at the Hazelett field marked the first time the Colchester Thunder had taken the diamond in nearly a week, its A-Minor matchups delayed by a steady stream of rain. After all the downtime, the girls were raring to go.

“Good eye, Ana!” they screamed in unison as she calmly allowed a low ball to pass. “You’ve got this!”

A resounding ring sounded out as LaBelle sent the next pitch soaring, far above the heads of the bewildered boys in the outfield. Even the opponents’ coach marveled aloud at the power of her swing.

The hit kicked off an impressive run for the Thunder that afternoon, batter after batter making clean contact with the ball. The inning switched by default after the girls cycled through their entire lineup.

Victory is familiar to these young players. The first and second grade girls wrapped up regular gameplay on Saturday with a dominating 9-1-0 record, playing their baseball games against only boys all season long.

“They’re supporting each other; they’re hustling on and off the field,” Thunder coach Pat McBride said. “It’s come together even better than I thought it could.”

The idea to form an all-girl baseball team in Colchester struck McBride during a game last year when he noticed his daughter, Allie, sitting patiently in the dugout surrounded by a gaggle of raucous boys.

The league’s quota system meant the handful of girls that signed up for youth baseball were evenly split among the teams, leaving just one or two in each mostly-male lineup.

“Socially, it wasn’t a great experience,” McBride said. “That was certainly true for my daughter.”

McBride pitched the unusual concept to little league leaders along with parents of past female players. And the crowd went wild.

Anya Davis strikes a pose at second base. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Nearly every girl echoed the same frustrations with prior seasons, McBride said. Some even considered dropping out but vowed to return if this new plan panned out. The stars aligned, McBride said, and exactly a dozen girls signed up the following year: a perfect team configuration.

Not immediately absorbed at preseason practices was the realization this all-girl team was talented – exceptionally so.

Word has since gotten out, and McBride joked he’s noticed more than one curious spectator set up a lawn chair to take in the afternoon match-ups, even if their child plays on a different team.

“You want to be around these kids. They’re so committed,” McBride said. “It’s just been fun to see.”

The league’s other players have been consistently good sports, McBride said, more frustrated by egregiously lopsided scores than the gender imbalance.

He largely credits a solid coaching partnership for the Thunder’s success, a team rounded out with Brian Carey, Ethan Fischer and McBride’s wife, Lori. The adults have worked to foster a supportive environment, McBride said, encouraging the girls to step outside their comfort zone.

The girls giggled wildly as they warmed up for their game last Friday afternoon at Colchester Middle School with a series of cartwheels, dance moves and skips led by their instructors. Once the game was underway, though, they locked into laser focus.

Eight-year-old Ana LaBelle’s hit started off an impressive batting streak for the all-girl little league team, which finished first in its division after the regular season. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

“They’re really good coaches. They’re probably the best coaches I ever had,” LaBelle said. Then, as an afterthought, added: “Well, maybe my dad.”

And while McBride said the girls’ baseball team is not aiming to detract from the robust softball league in Colchester, LaBelle and teammates Elzie Carey and Eliza Fischer said they far prefer baseball.

All three 8-year-olds heard rumor they might have to switch to softball eventually but planned to stick with their present sport for as long as possible.

“Baseball is way more fun,” LaBelle said. “All of us would crush those softballs, and it wouldn’t be as much fun. I like a challenge.”

The regular season came to a bittersweet close Saturday when the Thunder lost the final game by just one run, a small blemish on an otherwise perfect record. Even so, the girls headed into playoffs as the league’s top seed.

The Thunder turned it around in their semifinal match-up against the Marauders, the division’s fifth seed on Wednesday. The girls came out ahead and will compete in the championship game this Saturday at Airport Park.

Eliza Fischer, left, and Allie Lewis, right, are two players on the all-girl Thunder team that finished first in its division after taking on all-boy baseball teams all season. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)