Two years ago, a group of 10-year-old softball players from Egg Harbor Township earned their way to the Babe Ruth World Series in Jenson Beach, Fla., and they were just happy to be there. It was a great little summer vacation, but the squad got beaten up pretty good on the field.

This time around, it’s a business trip for the EHT Tornadoes Blue 12U Babe Ruth All-Stars.

EHT blitzed its opponents in the District 4 and South Jersey state championship tournaments, going undefeated while outscoring other teams 83-15, but then ran into some trouble in the regionals in a weekend that would test the Tornadoes’ mental toughness. They lost to Audubon (Pa.) 3-2 in the semifinals to drop down into the losers bracket and then, because of rain, were forced to win three games the following day in order to win the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship.

They did just that, beating Hilltop 6-4 before scoring a pair of wins over previously unbeaten Audubon to punch their ticket to Jenson Beach. EHT won the first finals game against Audubon 8-5, then — in a winner-takes-all scenario — the Tornadoes jumped out to a 4-0 lead early and cruised to a 10-4 victory. They’ll begin pool play in the Babe Ruth 12U World Series this weekend.

“It’s been one heck of a ride. The girls have really been working hard all season. We do workouts all winter and we said this was our goal, that we were going to make it back to the world series. We won regionals, so we’re going to the world series as Mid-Atlantic champions, which is awesome,” said Dave Del Re, one of the team’s assistant coaches. “We wanted to win through the winners bracket so it would be easier. We played on a Friday and Saturday and won two of the three games we played on that Saturday, then faced the team we lost to in the finals of the double elimination. (That loss) made the road to a regional championship tough because not only did we have to win another game to get into the final, we also had to beat the team that just beat us, and beat them twice. We had a game at around 7 p.m. on that Saturday night to see who would go into the finals, but it got rained out and they pushed that game to Sunday morning, so we had to play three games on Sunday to be regional champs and they were all back-to-back with only 20 minutes in between. We knew we were stacked up against the odds. We told the girls that (Audubon) was taking them for granted and thought they could beat us because they had beaten us the day before. Mentally, they thought they had us, but in the first game we jumped on them with five runs in the first inning. And in the second game we scored four runs in the first inning. It was something to witness.”

The team is coached by John D’Agostino with his wife, Mariealena, as an assistant along with Del Re and Ray Murdock. Players include Allison Amadio, Isabella D’Agostino, Evangelina Kim, Michaela Schlemo, Shelby Barnes, Mary Del Re, Elianna Meola, Ashlyn Warker, Brielle Boutot, Gianna Gonzalez and Denver Obermeyer.

Del Re said this team has had something special going on all summer, and he points to a season’s worth of winter workouts as the difference now as opposed to two years ago when the girls were just 10 years old. For many of them, softball is serious business now that they are 12 and just two years away from becoming high school players.

“For some reason, these girls click. One girl picks up another girl with the bat or the glove. There isn’t one superstar. This is a team of great players who just gel together. A good group of these girls went to the world series two years ago as 10-year-olds, and it was a great experience, but they got crushed. So, they are going down this year with the mindset that we’re going to jump on teams early, play together and do our best. I’ve had more than one girl say to me that we’re going down there with the idea that we’re going to win it,” Del Re said. “One of the things we told the girls — because there was no guarantees (in the regional championship) — picture yourself on a field with your daughter or granddaughter and you’re going to tell them about today, and you’re going to write that story and tell them exactly how we became regional champs today. You’re going to write that story, and you’re going to have one heck of a story to tell to your daughters or the people you coach when you’re old enough. After we won the first two games, it was winner-takes-all, and the girls looked at us and said, ‘coach, we have a chance to write that story now, and we’re going to do it.’ It was pretty cool.”

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