Rec Sports Spotlight: Dolphins capture Bantam title

Stephanie Engel coaches a group of girls who are just learning softball. These are the Dolphins who play in the Westminster Jaycees Girls Slow-Pitch Softball League's second through fourth grade Bantam Division.

Turning a double play, deciding who goes for a fly ball or even knowing when to backhand a grounder are often mysteries that need sorting out at their age.

Engle says that as often as not, five minutes after the game's over, her players can't even tell you who won, much less the score. But their coach doesn't mind. She thinks the main reason they should play is to enjoy themselves.

However a couple of Saturdays ago, they did both. They won AND had fun.

Then, the Dolphins swept three playoff games to take the Jaycees' Bantam Division postseason tournament championship. In the championship game, they thumped the Rockies, 15-3.

Engel and assistant coach Tim Salzman had an inkling their team would be good. Nine of their twelve players were back from last year's squad, and five had been there since the Dolphins first played in 2012.

They'd never won a championship, though. In 2012 they finished third in the postseason tourney and last year, fourth.

However over those two years, the girls had gained a little bit of experience playing together as a team. So this year, Engel and Salzman decided to go beyond just throw-and-catch fundamentals when spring workouts began.

"We tried to teach them what to do in different situations. There was a lot of situational practice," Engel recalled.

That work would pay off once the season began. The Dolphins gave up only 70 runs in their 13 regular season games. The next lowest number was the 120 given up by the third place Rockies.

However the Dolphins showed their mettle even before the regular season. On April 12, they swept four games to win the Bantam Division's preseason tournament.

The Dolphins kept it up during the regular season, going 12-1. Their only loss was a mid-season slip to the Ravens who finished second at 8-4.

"We had three strong pitchers, and that was the key. You have a lot of walks with kids this age, but they got it over the plate," Engel said.

The kids had some cohesion because they knew each other pretty well after two years together. The team's three second graders also progressed quickly this season.

Engel thinks that another big reason for her players' success was their dedication and that of their parents. The parents always made sure their kids got to practice on time.

And the kids wanted to play their softball no matter what. They insisted on playing their make-up games even though one had to be played on Memorial Day Weekend.

"The girls were really dedicated; they loved it. (That meant) the parents sometimes had to put their lives on hold for a little bit," Engel said.

The postseason tournament was played at the Jaycees Park in Westminster. The first Dolphins playoff game would be the only one that was close. The Dolphins and Rockies were locked in a 5-5 tie late in the game.

Then, Ellie Shultz got the hit that drove in the go-ahead run and Laela Martinez drove in an insurance tally to put the Dolphins ahead, 7-5. That's how the game ended.

Martinez was 2-for-2 plus the RBI, and Heaven Woodward was 1-for-1 with a walk and RBI. Teammate Brooke Bennett went 1-for-1 with a double.

The Dolphins coasted over the Fireflies in game two by a score of 16-2. Martha Duburow had a big game, going 3-for-3 with four RBIs. Caitlin Boden was 2-for-3. Melody Baker walked three times with the bases loaded and plated three runs. Lainani Blaney was 1-for-2 with a pair driven in.

The final, again with the Rockies, also left no doubt as to who the better team was. Skylar Engel and Allison Louque were each 2-for-2 with each adding two RBIs. Engel had a double and and Louque, a triple.

Mica Ostrow and Hailey Salzman were both 2-for-3 with Salzman adding an RBI in the lopsided triumph.

Engel's reaction, "it was fabulous," was predictable.

Some of her players' reactions were also predictable, humorously so.

"After the game, some of the girls came up to me and asked, 'did we win'?' It's so funny. The girls didn't care about winning, but they had a lot of fun," Engel said.

She looked back on a season which had started the same high hopes as had the other seasons. This one ended so differently.

"Every year I think they'll be good. But after their first game this year, I just knew it. They clicked," Engel said.

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