Chavira, Raymond, Sands spearhead return trip to state

Balanced by experience

Caption
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Elizabeth Raymond fields a groundball during practice for the Rock Falls 9-10 All-Stars Thursday at Rocket Park. The team will play in the Little League state tournament this weekend in Peru.

As players for the Rock Falls 9-10-year-old All-Star softball team shifted positions in the infield during practice at Rocket Park, coach Dave Chavira shouted advice.

"Don't throw the ball until you are balanced."

Balance is exactly what the Rock Falls team found after its first game at the district tournament to start its defense of the Little League state championship won a year ago at this age bracket.

That first game was against Sterling, and it was a loss.

"I think we showed up thinking we had districts in the bag," pitcher Maddie Sands said. "We lost that game, and after that, we were more focused, and we started to hit the ball."

"They get along great," said Jay Morthland, who coaches the team with Chavira and Jason Sands. "We had a difficult road at the district and faced a tough pitcher in the sectional. They never stopped fighting."

Rock Falls rallied through the loser's bracket before defeating Sterling twice to win the district title. They followed that up with a clean sweep of two games for a sectional title.

"The sectional was easy compared to the districts," Sands said. "We only had to play two games."

Sands, Elizabeth Raymond and Emalie Chavira are the three players returning from last year's team that won it all.

"They are our three leaders," Morthland said. "You'll see it in a few minutes. They'll lead the team through drills before practice starts without us having to tell them."

Rock Falls will meet Norridge at 3 p.m. Saturday in the first game of the state tournament at Judy Field in Peru. Clear Ridge and Calhoun will meet in the other first-round game at 1 p.m.

"We have to play hard and make all the plays," Raymond said. "We have to practice hard, and do what the coaches tell us."

"It's great to go again," Chavira said. "I think the girls that didn't go last year feel as excited as we were last year."

Sands and Chavira have even more background with Little League state tournament teams from Rock Falls. Sands' mother, Nicole (Nailor) Sands, and Chavira's mother, Kristi (Henry) Chavira, both played on state championship teams in their youth.

"She's always telling me how to do things," Sands said. "But I know that she knows what she is talking about. Not every girl has a mother that played softball too."

"I think she won three state titles," Chavira said of her mother. "I think she went like three other times, and went to the World Series once."

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