Photo Gallery | Berkshire Force returns home to firetruck parade
PITTSFIELD >> As the Berkshire Force 14U and 16U softball teams arrived at the Doyle Sports Complex aboard a fire truck, the teams were greeted with a hero's welcome, relishing in the impressive feats accomplished at the Babe Ruth World Series in Jensen Beach, Fla.
The 16U Force rebounded from a slow start in pool play to win the World Series title, while the 14U Force improved on last year's showing, finishing third overall. The 16U's are the first New England team to win the World Series.
After the teams posed for pictures with their medals, plaques and trophies, members of the 16U team had time to reflect on a journey that started nearly eight years ago for some.
Pitcher Ashley Keegan, the most valuable player of the tournament and an All-Defense team member, said it's a bittersweet feeling winning the biggest tournament of their career while also having her Force career come to an end.
"The past three World Series have been insane," she said. "It's my eighth year on the team, so to end it on this note — it's a dream come true.
"People always dream of winning the biggest tournament that they play. It still hasn't sunk in for us."
Keegan and Giuliana Pierce handled most of the pitching. Elena Cerveira earned All-Defense honors and Hayley Tobin was named to the All-World Series team.
16U coach Mark Pierson said he first coached this group of players as members of the 12U program. He said the talent of the team has always been apparent, but witnessing the progression of their skills on the field — as players such as Britney Perkett perfected the slap bunt — or in the dugout, as captains Keegan, Rachel Voller and Erin Murphy developed into leaders, has been as rewarding as winning ballgames. And despite being one of the few Northeastern teams in the tournament, Pierson said his players did not back down from tough competition.
"The most important thing is we played in a lot of tough tournaments along the way, whether it was last year or this year," he said. "We played the hardest competition we could find to get ready for tournaments like this and what we found out was that, every time we have our backs against the wall — like if we lose we're done — we tended to go on winning streaks. The girls really responded. The harder the situation, the more they responded. They were very clutch in that regard."
Even as Force catcher Tobin stood with her championship medal around her neck, she said the team's impressive five-game win streak to clinch the title seemed surreal. She added that the team's never-quit attitude is a reflection of how close they've become.
"It really reveals the family-like atmosphere we've created over the years," she said. "We know that we can do it. It was just a matter of getting it done, because we all have confidence in each other and we believe that we can do it."
While teams from outside of Western Massachusetts may still pronounce the Berkshire Force with a hard inflection on Berk-shire, the program's steady run of success should continue to increase its status nationally.
Within the program, 14U members Abby Santos and Tess Lyon — who were named to the 14U All-Defense and All-World Series teams, respectively — said the 16U team helped the younger players realize that a team from Berkshire County can dominate on a big stage.
"We all look up them," Santos said.
"They're like our role models," added Lyon. "Since we're so close to everyone, we're like a Force family. It gets us so excited thinking that we could do that one day — it's crazy. It's what we've been dreaming about ever since we started going to World Series'."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252