Four years ago, Erin Vorke started the Crush team and entered it in the Carroll County Co-ed Softball League. From humble (and stumble) beginnings it grew.
After winning only one game its first season, Crush nearly won the championship in the league's Lower Division the following year. It finished first in the regular season but lost in the tournament championship game.
When it was moved into the league's Middle Division last year, Crush did no better than middle-of-the-pack. Vorke wanted to do better.
She picked up several new players for this campaign, and they helped the team over the top. The Crush finally reached the summit in late July when it emerged from the championship tournament's consolation bracket to beat Hits and Balls twice and take the title.
It winning that title, Vorke got, one might say, "major help" from an utterly unexpected source. That help came from former major league pitcher Juan Padilla, who played for the Yankees, Mets, and Reds. Now 38, he lives in Manchester.
The story began when one of her players, who also played for another softball team, met Padilla by chance last fall. One thing led to another, and he picked the former major league hurler up for his team. When Vorke found out about that,she recruited Padilla to play for her Crush during the Co-ed League's 2014 fall season.
He didn't pitch of course; he played shortstop. And he had an instant impact as a hitter.
It was late in his first game, and the Crush was losing by a run against a team it had never beaten. Padilla came to bat.
"I told him to hit a home run and tie the game up, and he did," Vorke recalled with a laugh.Her team subsequently won that game. Padilla came back this spring and he, along with Bob Wheelton, became the Crush's chief power hitters.
The team, whose players come from all over Carroll County and with some from elsewhere, started slowly but things picked up.
"Early in the season, we split double headers. But we started winning them in the end," Vorke said.
A big part of that success was the versatility of her players.
"A lot of the guys could play pretty much anywhere. The girls could play the infield, and some could even play the outfield," the Westminster resident explained.
Her female players usually covered first, second and third base, catcher and right field.
The last double header of this regular season was against the Bandits. The two teams were neck and neck at the top of the standings. Crush came out on top though, winning one of the games and tying the other.
The Crush finished in first place with a 10-5-1 record. The Bandits finished second at 9-6-2.
With first place now in her back pocket, Vorke was optimistic coming into the Co-ed League's postseason championship tournament at the Carroll County Sports Complex. She looked back over the season and concluded that there was nobody in the league that her Crush couldn't beat.
"I felt we had a pretty good chance of winning. We'd beaten every team at least once. When we lost it was because of errors, not because we had been outplayed," Vorke observed.
Her team got off to a good start by beating Rifles and Racks, 6-4. The game was close throughout with the Crush continually staying ahead by a run or two.
Padilla and Ryan Sima supplied the power with each hitting a home run. The Crush's Scott Mayer went 2 for 2.
Crush then faced unbeaten Hits and Balls. It would have to beat them twice in order to win the title.
Things didn't start too well as Hits jumped ahead, 5-0, after half an inning. But in the home first, Crush put eight runs across and was never headed, winning 16-8.
Padilla led the way, going 3 for 4. Brittney Spottswood was 2 for 3 with a run scored, and McDaniel, 2 for 2. Wheelton was 2 for 4.
Hits and Balls got off to an even better start in the subsequent "if game." It erupted for nine runs in the top of the first inning. But Crush erupted even more in the bottom half, plating 12.
Hits scored five in the third to lead, 15-12. However Crush scored five of its own to go up, 17-15 and was never headed thereafter. It clinched things with six runs in the sixth and finished up with a 25-17 championship game win.
"Awesome," declared Vorke when describing what it was like to take the Co-ed title.
"It took a lot of hard work over the past four years. I'm glad we were able to come together and win one."
Vorke hopes her team can repeat next spring but says a lot depends on which of her players come back. But there is one player whose return she virtually guarantees and that is Padilla.
"Juan doesn't have any choice," she said with a laugh.