Westminster Jaycees softball team won the junior division title. Back row (L-R): Coach Mike, Coach Rob, Maddie Smith, Emma Lemmerman, Megan Beares, Coach John. Middle row Madison Hockenberry, Megan Scocco, Mary Zaepful, Julia Eyler, Kayla Snyder, Delaney Stevens, Kailah Lee, Taylor Wood, Morgan Click, Maddie Hott, Catherine Zaepful. Front: Coach Herb. Not pictured: Shyanne Gordon and Mark Click.
Westminster Jaycees softball team won the junior division title. Back row (L-R): Coach Mike, Coach Rob, Maddie Smith, Emma Lemmerman, Megan Beares, Coach John. Middle row Madison Hockenberry, Megan Scocco, Mary Zaepful, Julia Eyler, Kayla Snyder, Delaney Stevens, Kailah Lee, Taylor Wood, Morgan Click, Maddie Hott, Catherine Zaepful. Front: Coach Herb. Not pictured: Shyanne Gordon and Mark Click. (Submitted Photo)

Years from now, the girls on this year's Cougars team will remember their 2017 championship of the Junior Division in the Westminster Jaycees Girls Softball League.

And, those memories will also have an asterisk. The girls, who are now eighth- to 12th-graders, will remember that they won their championship on the league's golden anniversary. The local slow-pitch loop opened play in the spring of 1967, 50 years ago. That was before many of those girls' parents were even born.

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A lot has changed in softball since then. Slow-pitch has given way to fast-pitch throughout Carroll County as recreation organizations see a greater priority in preparing their girls for high school softball. But the Westminster-based league's officials have resisted the change.

Time has stood still at the Westminster Jaycees Park. And this season these girls played the same game their grandmothers once played on that same field.

Cougars coach Herb Eyler and his players started this special year on a high note, and things were memorable from the beginning.

His girls swept three games to win the Junior Division's spring tournament championship.

He had lost only two players from his 2016 team. The returners all had seven or eight years of experience and were only two years removed from a 2015 title.

They continued their successes in the regular season, going 16-2 and taking first place. When it was over, they were two games up on the second place, 14-4 Aces.

The Cougars were first in the Junior Division in runs scored with 250. They allowed the fewest, 93.

Eyler observed that, "they could all hit the ball. When they can all hit, you have things in your favor. I also have an outfield that can catch the ball. Most of the girls could play out there. If a fly ball got hit, it got caught."

The Cougars, fresh from their regular season first-place finish, now moved on to the postseason tournament.

The tournament opened for the Cougars on June 7 at Jaycees Park, They began with a convincing 17-4 win over the Flyers. Kailah Lee, Madison Hockenberry, Mary and Catherine Zaepfel had key hits.

Two nights later, they faced the second place Aces. They had give the Cougars one of their two losses for the year. This time though, the Cougars prevailed 14-10 with key hits from Julia Eyler, Megan Meares, and Shyanne Gordon.

The next day, they played the Hawks, coached by Paul Allen, for the championship. The Hawks had finished third during the regular season with an 8-9 record. However, they were division champs in 2016 and were hoping for a repeat. However, they already had a loss in the double-elimination tournament and would have to beat the Cougars twice for the title.

They won the first game 10-7. Katie Allen had a good defensive game at third for the winners, making a number of fine plays. The Hawks' Kelly Smith pitched her best game of the season.

Emma Lemmerman, Taylor Wood and Maddie Smith led the Cougars.

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Each team now had a loss, and it was one more game for all the marbles. Eyler talked to his players.

"I asked the girls, 'Who wants it more? You worked so hard all year, now go out there and leave it all on the field,'" he said.

His speech seemed to take effect as the girls shot to a 13-1 lead. However the Hawks came back to give them a scare before falling short, 14-9.

Maddie Hott, Morgan Click and Delaney Stevens had excellent defensive games for the winners.

Cougars pitcher Megan Scocco pitched all four games, batted .692 (9-for-13) for the tournament, and was named the tournament MVP by the coaches.

Eyler looked happily back on his season. While his Cougars had also won the championship two years before, this time was special for him.

"This was the best team I've had in my nine years of coaching-physically, attitude-wise and mentally. If one of them got into slump, the others picked her up. They always picked each other up," Eyler said.

"It was one of the best feelings I've ever had to send my seniors off on such a high note."

One of the two moving on will be Westminster High School senior Scocco. However, there is always next year, and Eyler and the rest of his girls are already looking forward to it.

"One came up to me and said, 'Coach, we're all coming back next year to defend our title,'" Eyler said.

And the odds could be in their favor.

They should also be in favor of the Westminster Jaycees Girls Softball League. It's true that participation in the league has declined with the onrush of fast-pitch softball.

Eyler estimated that there were about 500 players 15 years ago and over 300 five or six years ago. Now the numbers are down to about 250-260.

While the overwhelming percentage of those players are from around Westminster, some also some from Taneytown and Hampstead to boost the participation.

"Each year, about 15 girls come over from fast-pitch to play slow-pitch, Eyler said.

Eyler believes that slow-pitch is the better game in which to learn the skills of softball such as fielding, throwing and base running because there is more action. There is more hitting, base running and scoring than in fast-pitch, so the players in the field are constantly challenged. And, some girls would rather play a game like that. So as long as that situation exists, the league has a niche.

"Do I think the league will grow? Maybe not much," Eyler said. "But I don't think it will go down either."

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