RISING SUN — Manager Paul Taylor and third-year players Marissa Cooper, Cassidy Hayden and Alyssa Jezyk were all members of the Rising Sun senior softball team the last time it made the mid-summer trip to Worcester, Mass. to participate in the East Regional Tournament as the Maryland state champions.
Two years later, the trio of players and their head coach will once again be battling for a spot in the Little League World Series as they lead Rising Sun on a return trip to New England. This time, the Cecil County squad plans for a deeper run in the tournament.
“Last time, we were just happy to get there,” said Taylor, whose team dropped four of its five games at the 2017 East Regional Tournament. “This year, we’re trying to take that step forward and possibly win there and move onto [the World Series in] Delaware. It’s kind of a different mind set than before.”
Practicing on Saturday at the Cecil Community Center Park, Taylor prepares his team for the upcoming tournament by having his players focus on the fundamentals. The afternoon workout begins with players repeatedly making strong, accurate throws across the diamond in an effort to eliminate the errors that can lead to defeat.
“That’s been our focus the whole time,” Taylor explained. “I tell them that if you make 90 percent of the routine plays, you’re going to win. The fabulous plays may win you a few games, but it’s these simple, routine plays — knowing where to throw the ball, knowing how to position yourself and who’s backing you up — that’s really gotten us here. Our hitting has been fabulous, our pitching has been stellar, but really our defense, they know what to do when they get the ball.”
Cooper, who played shortstop two years ago, once again controls the middle of the infield for Rising Sun. Her four doubles in the state tournament helped the club become the fourth District 5 team in the past five years to represent Maryland at regionals.
“Our goal two years ago was to make it to the second round and win one game. This year, we want to do more than that. We’re more prepared,” Cooper said. “It feels good to be able to help prepare the other girls on the team and share the experience from two years ago with them. We’re taking it more serious this year.”
Rising Sun is slated to open the tournament against New Jersey at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
“This year, we already know what it’s like up there, so we’re actually shooting to go to the World Series. We play so good together as a team,” Hayden said. “The first time was an experience of a lifetime. To do it a second time is crazy. It’s my last year, so it’s driving me to go even further.”
The team hosted a car wash at Rising Sun American Legion Mason Dixon Post 194 on Sunday to raise funds for the trip. The tournament runs from Saturday until Thursday.
“When you get up there, it’s people you’ve never seen before and never met. You don’t know how they play, and they play a lot harder because they want to win,” Jezyk said. “It’s very exciting because you’re in Massachusetts and you’ve never been there, and you’re playing regionals, where if you win you go to the World Series, but it’s very nerve-wracking. Those teams are good, they’re representing their states and they want to win.
“I honestly think it’s a privilege. We had to beat a lot of good teams to be here and it wasn’t a walk in the park,” added Jezyk, whose team topped reigning state champion Perryville in the District 5 title game in June. “Perryville was one of our big rivals because they beat us last year. That was really devastating, but I think it made us come back and play 10 times harder this time.”
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