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Jr. Eagles gear up for World Series

EAGLE POINT — Eagle Point’s champion 14-under Babe Ruth softball team is about to embark on the trip of a lifetime.

The Jr. Eagles Fastpitch team won the Pacific Northwest Regional last Friday in Shady Cove, and they’ll leave Monday for the World Series July 17-27 in Jensen, Florida.

“Most of them have never been on an airplane or been out of Oregon,” said John Thompson, president of Jr. Eagles Fastpitch and the team’s head coach. “So it’s pretty phenomenal for them.”

The team undertook a fervent fundraising effort to pay for the trip.

A goal of $30,000 was established for the players, coaches and chaperones. By Wednesday evening, or four days into the campaign, the team had raised just over $22,000.

Players will be at the Walmart in Eagle Point from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday taking donations and selling tickets for car washes. The car washes will be Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Banner Bank in Eagle Point and at the Corner Quilt Shop in Shady Cove.

Donations can also be made at any Banner Bank branch, and the team has set up an account on gofundme.com, which can be accessed by searching for “Jr Eagles to the World Series 2017.”

Eagle Point went 5-0 in the regional and defeated a team from Boise, Idaho, 10-2, for the championship.

It is the first Babe Ruth softball team from Southern Oregon to advance to the World Series, said Thompson. A Medford team won the Little League Softball World Series in 1975.

The Jr. Eagles played a mix of Babe Ruth and ASA games. They were 28-2 in league and played in six tournaments.

The team was formed in October.

“What impresses me the most is the way they’ve come together as a team,” said Thompson. “The amount of work they’ve put in and the desire they’ve shown throughout the year, and their resiliency, was great.”

Eagle Point has historically had power hitters, he said. Not so this team, something that initially concerned him.

“I was shocked at the beginning of the year,” he admitted, regarding the dearth of power. “I thought it was going to be a train wreck.”

But the Jr. Eagles — a program that was started in 2000 — adapted well to small ball.

“The coolest thing is, this is the first time they’ve played a lot of small ball,” said Thompson, “and they’ve been very successful at it. They’ve been able to get base hits consistently.”

As an example of the team’s perseverance, he noted that in the Boatnik tournament, the Jr. Eagles placed second in the tough Gold Bracket despite having to rally several times.

“A lot of games we’d be down all the way to the seventh inning and come back,” said Thompson. “That’s what I meant about resiliency. These girls always picked it up and finished.”

Caitlyn Warner is the team’s top pitcher. She has above average velocity for this age group, reaching 50 mph, said Thompson.

“She has phenomenal movement on the ball,” he said, “and has quite the variety of pitches. She has 10 different pitches. It’s pretty impressive.”

Her go-to pitch is a slider, said the coach.

The team’s leading hitters for average are Warner, Cleo Smith (who also pitches) and Kaylena Hoag. Catcher Colleen Thompson also serves in a leadership role.

John Thompson doesn’t know how the Jr. Eagles will fare at the World Series, but last week, he said, the Boise coach told him Eagle Point has what it takes to go far.

“He feels we have a really good chance with the pitching staff we have and the way we hit the ball,” said Thompson. “He says we have a really good shot at taking the championship. I’ve never seen the teams back east, so I don’t know.”

For more information on the team or to donate, contact Thompson at 541-326-5886 or jreaglesfp@gmail.com.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@mailtribune.com