By Rick Menning
When the dust settled and all the youth softball diamond doings came to a close in Greenville, North Carolina and Kirkland, Washington, two World Series teams returned home having truly raised the bar.
The delegations from Milford, Connecticut raised the bar for themselves and they raised the bar for those who will follow and can now also have aspirations of reaching or even exceeding that bar.
The Little League and Junior League All-Stars from Brewster Field where it all began once again -- as they did over the summer of 2022 -- left an indelible impression not only on their community but also throughout the country and around the world.
The Philippines knows what Milford softball is all about after being involved in an intense battle from start to finish against the United States champions in the World Series title game in Kirkland.
Italy knows what Milford softball is all about after having 20 runs scored against them in two lopsided outcomes in Greenville.
Canada knows what Milford softball is all about after two highly contested but nevertheless losses to both the New England champions in North Carolina and the U.S. East and United States champions in Washington.
Puerto Rico knows what Milford softball is all about after being shut down and mercy ruled by the girls from Connecticut in an Orange Bracket semifinal at Elm Street Park.
Rewriting the record books
With that victory over Puerto Rico on Thursday, Manager Bryan Glynn's squad clinched the second Final Four ranking for the Milford Little League softball program in as many weeks.
Manager Brian Corris' team also reached the Final Four in its World Series play at Everest Park, and went on to compete in the championship game while representing the United States.
To put Milford's summer of 2023 accomplishments into perspective, last summer the Little Leaguers from Brewster Field finished in the Top 5 at Stallings Stadium while the Junior Leaguers were No. 6 overall in Kirkland.
Raising the bar to Final Four on both World Series ballfields and setting new standards was this year's mindset and it was evident to all the parents, fans, supporters and national television viewers.
Determination to the finish
Battling a team that would 24 hours later become the Little League World Series champions from Massapequa Park in New York, the New England warriors never quit.
They showed their usual poise and willpower not only in the Orange Bracket final but when they also played New York to a one-run decision earlier in the tournament.
Grace Weber, who pitched six of the seven games for Milford, again persevered in the circle and gave it everything she had in the setback to New York, which went on to defeat North Carolina (Southeast) in Sunday's title showdown.
Weber ended all three of the Massapequa girls' threats from the first to the third innings by inducing their batters to pop up -- four times -- to second baseman Audrey O'Connell.
Along with easily handling yet another pop-up in the fourth inning, O'Connell started 4-3 putouts in both the fifth and sixth inning.
Holly Coon also took care of business from her shortstop position, while Emily Speringo likewise made some nice fielding plays.
In the bottom of the first inning, Speringo missed a home run to center field by inches when she took the New York center fielder to the warning track before the catch was made.
Speringo entered the Orange Bracket final leading the entire World Series in doubles (4), hits (7) and RBI (8). Weber entered that contest having pitched 22 innings with 18 strikeouts.
Marina Cosmas came through with the only hit of the game -- a run-scoring rip to right field scoring Maja Brown who had reached on an error -- as the Mid-Atlantic pitchers were pretty solid. She also had a hit against Texas in the consolation game on Sunday.
As evidence of their determination at the plate, Milford put the ball in play 20 of its overall 22 at-bats against New York. Massapequa pitchers only recorded two strikeouts against New England. Riley Fagan-Davies and Brown both reached base via New York errors.
One interesting fact regarding the New York squad: this is only the second time since the late 1970s that a regional representative from Bristol, Connecticut has won the Little League Softball World Series.
The Massapequa girls won the Mid-Atlantic Region title just hours after Milford defeated Maine to wear the New England crown to punch their World Series tickets.
Other than Massapequa, a team from Robbinsville, New Jersey claimed the World Series title in 2014 after becoming the U.S. East Region representatives in Bristol.
The softball tradition lives on
Nestled between New Haven and Bridgeport and home to the Oyster Festival among so many other annual events and attractions, Milford has its own personality and charm.
In one family-oriented neighborhood off New Haven Avenue, children can be seen playing in driveways and front yards before rounding the bend on Brewster Road.
There, on the left, sits a complex vibrant with athletes who take the Little League pledge seriously. They strive to win ... and will always do their best.
Even before arriving at the entrance to Brewster Field -- and away from the hustle and bustle of city life all along New Haven Avenue -- the sounds of softball and baseball players working hard and honing their skills are a rite of passage from one season to the next.
In the case of Milford softball, girls of all ages spend countless hours on the field and in the batting cages aspiring to be exceptional.
Over the past two years, those aspirations rose incredibly to where they believed that their hard work could someday lead to their appearance in a World Series. That someday was the summer of 2022 and 2023.
Thanks to the Little League and Junior League girls' All-Star softball teams of 2022 and 2023, the dreams for those who will follow in their footsteps can absolutely come true.
World Series superstars!
Milford Little League Girls Softball New England/World Series Final Four Team Roster: Emma Bonanno, Maja Brown, Holly Coon, Marina Cosmas, Riley Fagan-Davies, Cayleigh Glynn, Dani Kotansky, Sammy Marini, Addie McKenna-Hansen, Audrey O'Connell, Emily Speringo and Grace Weber.
Milford Junior League Girls Softball U.S. East/United States Champions Team Roster: Maddy Bonanno, Norah Bove, Chloe Capalbo, Abby Corris, Leah Corris, Maddie Deldin, Ariella DiOrio, Maya Fallon-Silva, Nyla Jaser, Gabby Rodriguez, Julia Scibek and Lily Stankevich.