Twenty-four teams selected from 10 states traveled to Oklahoma for the 16U USA Softball Junior Olympic Cup beginning Wednesday, July 13.
By Friday, only two teams remained, and they happened to be from the same state.
Not only that, but they were also from the same organization: Turnin2.
The Detroit-based ball club features two 16U national teams, Turnin2 Maloney and Turnin2 Pezz, and they've proven their talent nationwide this summer.
“We knew going in that it was possibility, but we didn’t really expect it. With two brackets of 12 teams, the odds of us both coming out as No. 1 [were slim],” Devin Johnston, the catcher for Turnin2 Pezz said. “It could happen, we’re both great teams, but there were also 22 other great teams here.”
Johnston, who plays on the Almont varsity team during the high school season, was one of four local athletes to play in the Junior Olympic Cup championship on July 16. The other three all played for Turnin2 Maloney and included her own teammate, infielder Grace Koenig, center fielder Ella Stephenson from Algonac, and first baseman Claire Borg from St. Clair.
“It’s fun to play with your high school opponents. You know them through mutual friends and it’s just a cool experience getting to see your opponents and play with some of them too,” Stephenson said. “When both Michigan teams from the same organization got into the championship, that was definitely a statement for Michigan-born teams in general. It shows the game is growing a lot.”
Pezz jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first and extended it to 7-0 by the end of the second.
Maloney responded in the top of the fourth on a two-out rally with a pair of runs, one of which came after Stephenson was walked. She and Koenig each recorded one hit on the game, while Johnston had one stolen base and one run.
With another run in the bottom of the fifth and two in the sixth, Pezz had sealed a 10-2 victory and a Junior Olympic title.
“It says a lot about the state of mcihgain, but also the Turnin2 program,” Johnston said. “I think it shows how well this organization is developing and I think most of the girls are form similar areas, so it shows how much the lower part of Michigan is brining up the game of softball.”
The championship game was played at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex, home of the College Softball World Series, and was broadcast live on mlb.com.
The girls said that while it was a big game on an even bigger stage, once the first pitch was thrown, it was business as usual.
“Being a 16-year-old playing on that field alone was crazy. The odds of any of us playing on that field again aren’t crazy high, so it was really cool to be able to do that at a young age,” Johnston said. “I didn’t really think about [the cameras]. When we were doing the national anthem and stuff I thought about it, but once the game started I kind of forgot about it.”
For Stephenson, who is committed to play at the University of Michigan upon graduation, the experience only strengthened her desire to return to that field as a Wolverine.
“After being on that stage, I 100% want to be there with Michigan when we hopefully make it far in the tournament. That’ll be one of our big goals as a team: to get to the College World Series and hopefully win it,” she said. “That’s definitely a goal of mine. It always was, but after playing there as a 17-year-old, your eyes open a little more and you’re like, ‘Wow, I really want to get back here.’”