Palma Ceia Little League Vying For Second Straight Trip to Nationals
The success of last year's junior level softball team was no fluke.
Palma Ceia Little League has combined with West Tampa Little League over the last four years in creating All-Star softball teams capable of going beyond the State Championship level.
Last season, the team went all the way to the national championship game, but were beaten in embarassing fashion in the final game Junior League World Series. This year, the team is comprised of a completely different cast with only one returning player, but the goal has remained the same.
"After winning state on Monday, our goal is to take this team to the next level," coach Michael Valdes said. "Last year my daughter was on the team, and even though this is a completely different team, I wanted to stay with these girls because I saw that we have the potential to do something really special. We're a much different group, but the twelve girls that have committed really bought into the expectations that we've put on them."
This year's squad doesn't boast the defensive prowess of their predecessors, but their bats and strength on the mound have more than compensated for the errors in the field.
"As opposed to last year's team which was really outstanding defensively, this team is still making a lot of mistakes that a young team would make," Valdes said. "We're still working on our defense but this team really hits the cover off the ball. That's been the biggest reason along with our strong pitching to why we've gotten where we are."
The team heads to Fort Myers this weekend for the Southeast Regional Championships. With a victory at regionals, the team will head back to Kirkland, Washington for another crack at the World Series. For now, Valdes and company are moving forward on faith that this is their year.
"For us, getting to the next level would be a dream at this point," Valdes said. "We need to learn how to win games 1-0 or 2-1 now, because when you get to this level there are no easy games because of the quality of the competition."
Valdes' experience of last season as a coach was something that he'll never forget and this season he expects it to benefit him going forward.
"I had some idea last year of what to expect because some of our coaches had been there before, but I still felt a lot of pressure," Valdes said. "This time, I don't feel the same type of pressure and I think our team plays very loose. I don't think they totally understand how big it is that they've made it to this level and I think it's kept me very loose. Now that I know what's coming, I think I'll be more calm and be able to prepare the kids better."