Two years ago, Chelsea Eads had great seats for the Fillies’ unprecedented celebration in East Peoria.
Then a freshman at Morrison, she was along for the ride and got to watch lifelong close friends claim the 2A state title trophy at EastSide Center.
Each of the past 2 years, Eads has savored a taste of that sort of satisfaction. She’s one of the four original members of the Milan Aces travel team that won a second straight USAF “A” World Series title in Florida.
“We win almost every tournament every weekend, but the one in Florida meant a lot,” Eads said. “We’d traveled so far, and when we were young, we always wanted to beat a California team. Now we’re beating teams from Georgia and Texas.”
Eads batted .450 for the Milan team that draws players from softball hotbeds like Sherrard, Rock Island, and has parlayed the hard work over the summertime into a .533 batting average during the first 3 years of her prep career. She batted .577 and slugged .859 last season and drove in 43 runs, earning her a spot on SVM’s All-Area first team and the first-team catcher spot on the Three Rivers team.
Her mom, Tori, says she recognized about 10 years that Chelsea had raw talent, forcing them to look for a promising travel team.
“She would throw the ball harder to the first basemen, and they would say, ‘Don’t throw so hard,’” Tori rememberd, “so I knew, ‘OK, we can’t handle this.’ So we took her down to the Aces.”
Tori and her husband, Justin, have Morrison pride to burn, the former the coach of the eighth-grade team and a varsity assitant after playing volleyball, baseball and runing track during her prep career. Justin played football and wrestled.
But they also have three other children. Joe will be a freshman at Morrison and is a standout wrestler whose football practices open next week. Zack will be in fifth grade and participates in football, wrestling and baseball.
“We even have a wrestling mat in the basement – a full wrestling mat,” Tori said. “It’s supposed to be my basement, my family room, but it’s a wrestling mat for these guys.”
Jordan will be in second grade and tries out for a travel team this week. She’s a pitcher.
“Maybe I’ll get to catch her when she starts pitching more,” Eads said. “I have sometimes, but she’s a little wild now, because she’s so young.”
When Chelsea and the Aces started from scratch in 2007, there was one coach, meaning parents got a workout 4 days a week, Monday through Thursday.
“We’re all sports people in the family, so it’s definitely 7 days out of the week,” Tori Eads said. “Especially for us when they were little. It wasn’t just their practices. It was parent practices, too – imagine that. We had to shag the balls. They had four machines hooked up, and we’d shag the balls, put them in the machine, and they would bat. They’d get probably 300 or 400 swings, and we’d shag them all.”
Chelsea would do her homework on the way there and back. Justin would sometimes grab some winks in the car during practice, if he wasn’t taking another of his children to a practice or event.
When Zack needed a transplant a couple of years ago, that upped the ante. But Tori never missed one of Chelsea’s games, driving to the game from Chicago, then back.
“It means a lot to me,” Chelsea said. “My mom’s at every single game, she brought me to every single practice. She’s always there, and my dad will make it to a lot of games and bring all the other siblings.”
All that driving. All the effort during practices. Chelsea wouldn’t dare curb her mom’s enthusiasm when she’s yelling during games, right?
“It depends on what they’re yelling,” Chelsea said. “Mom’s pretty vocal.”
“She tells me to be quiet all the time,” Tori Eads said.
Chelsea has worked hard at speaking up, seeing as how she’s the key communicator behind the plate. She also prefers calling all the pitches, which, unlike in high school games, she gets to do in travel ball.
Switching mentalities from spring to summer can be tricky, though.
“In high school ball, you’ll be playing against your summer teammates. Like we’ll be playing Sherrard,” Eads said. “It’s different. You know that they’re good, and you know their weaknesses when they’re up to bat – most of them don’t have any,” “But maybe some of them struggle with a lower pitch or a higher pitch.”
But there was no mistaking who her teammates were when they collected their hardware in Florida.
“There were more smiles and tears,” she said. “The coolest thing when I was a freshman was probably how close that team was together. There were girls who played together from a very young age, and to see the tears of happiness when they ran out there to get it…it would be awesome to be on the field after winning it all.”
That sort of atmosphere is why mom and dad would love to see the summer success lead to another run to state next spring.
“It would be tough, but I think it’s definitely reachable,” Justin said.
High School: Morrison
Sports: Vollyeball, basketball and softball
Clubs/activities: Honor roll, student council
FYI: One of four players who have played for the Milan Aces travel team all 7 years of its existence. ... Aces recently won second straight USAF “A” World Series in Florida. ... 2-time All-Three Rivers selection in softball. ... Also plays infield and outfield. ... Took part in state 3-point shootout her junior year.