MILTON-FREEWATER - The Milton-Freewater Little League Majors softball team picked up a few million new fans recently.
With a 9-1 victory over the Hollywood Rose City Lakeside squad on July 11, the Milton-Freewater team earned the right to represent the state of Oregon at the Little League West Regional, which kicks off Saturday in San Bernardino, Calif.
Milton-Freewater has experience winning tournaments; six of the current majors players have been together since playing as 9-year-olds and already have a state championship in the minors and a third-place finish last year to their names.
Mallory Copeland, Rachael Lyon, Kaitlyn Slusarenko, Tabitha Heckman, McKenna Yensen and Micha Fortune make up the veteran core and their chemistry has been a big part of the team's success, Milton-Freewater scorekeeper Cheryl Copeland said.
"If something is going wrong, they bring each other back up," Copeland said. "If someone is having a bad day, they don't worry about it, they know someone is going to make a play and get back that positive momentum.
"They are a special group," Copeland said. "We're taking 11 girls this year; even those other girls, even if they haven't been on this team before, you would have thought they were together this whole time. They are just that good."
This year, Milton-Freewater has rolled, posting a 9-1 record en route to its state championship, with Milton-Freewater's lone loss coming to Pendleton in districts.
Milton-Freewater coach Steve Copeland said the players were relishing the opportunity to advance in the postseason.
"They're excited," coach Copeland said. "They've been working at this since they were 9, so they've always been working toward this goal."
Milton-Freewater has strengths in both pitching and batting, with a four-pitcher-deep rotation of Mallory Copeland, Slusarenko, Heckman and Jordyn Lambert figuring to be important in a tournament in which the team will have to play four days in a row just to complete pool play and advance to the semis. The tournament wraps up July 27, with the winner earning a trip to the Little League World Series in Portland.
Coach Copeland also credited catcher Fortune for enhancing the play of his pitchers.
"To make a good pitcher you've got to have a good catcher, and Micha Fortune is a pretty good one," he said. "It doesn't matter if you have good pitching, you've got to have good catchers."
Milton-Freewater is strong at the plate up and down the lineup, coach Copeland said, but Mallory Copeland has been bringing extra pop since the state tournament, hitting her first home run ever in the tournament and going on to post two more homers from there.
"She's (Mallory Copeland) always hit the ball hard," coach Copeland said, "but this year, the first home run she hit, it surpised everyone. When she finally did hit one she realized ‘this is what I can do.'
But Milton-Freewater won't be sunk if Mallory's production falls off, with coach Copeland citing, again, experience.
"Almost everone in the lineup can hit and move the ball around," he said. "We work really hard with them to put the ball in play.
"I'm sure thats why we've been doing so well; because everyone is good at what we're supposed to do."