May 24, 2010

Derry Girls Softball Under the Friday Night Lights

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – It's Friday night at O'Hara Field, and a half-moon is rising over the third base line. The evening sky shifts like a mood ring, from cotton candy to sapphire. The lights are on and the crowd is pumped. It's the biggest night ever for the girls of Derry Little League Softball – their first time playing under the Friday night lights.
“Girls, have fun. Welcome to history. Play ball,” said the voice from the announcer's booth, launching a dozen girls in red Brownell Insurance T-shirts and another dozen in maroon Greater Salem Footcare T's to their respective dugouts.
After several years of planning, Derry Little League finally fielded its first four girls softball teams this season.
Other firsts in store for the girls – full uniforms, participation in the All-Star game, pitching clinics, and winter workouts.
“We're gonna keep them active and involved,” said Rob Hall, vice president of equipment. “There's even a girls tournament in Williamsport.”
But for right now, the focus is on helping the 48 girls in the 9 to 12 year old league to have some fun while learning the finer points of fielding. It's a process, says Hall.
“We tried to field younger and older teams, but we couldn't get enough to register. We pushed,” said Hall. “Next year, we'll have more.
Twenty minutes into the game Kristen Sobolewski is pitching for the red team. She winds up and lets go of one aimed right at the glove of Felicia Walalis, who is crouched behind home plate. It is a ball, high – so high, in fact, it's a good two feet over the head of Mackenzie Pierce, batting for the maroon team. Kristen shakes it off, along with whatever jitters there are when you are part of something this big.
Someone from the bleachers reminds Kristin to focus, and take a deep breath. A team mate from deep left field has some other advice: “Or do the hokey pokey, if you have to,” a comment that makes the whole team smile, including coach Al Walalis.
“That's something we like to say to break the ice, when the pressure is too much,” said Walalis, with one eye on his team. “We want to keep it positive and light.”
Across the diamond, Alanna Marcotte is waiting to bat. Musical interludes between batters delights the girls, who are right now dancing around to the theme of “Ghost Busters” in the dugout. Their coach, Rich Minassian, is getting an earful from Darrian Barker.
“Coach, you need to teach us to slide,” she says, leaning on her bat and tilting her helmet up to make eye contact with Minassian, who is doing his best to suppress a smile.
“That's what we're gonna do tomorrow,” he assures her, tapping the brim of her helmet which slides down over her eyes.
“I only ever had to slide one time – just now,” she explains. “And I was out at home.”
Her teammates are momentarily distracted when Alyssa Amsler gets her hair caught in the Velcro of her visor.
“Hold still,” says one of the girls, as the other two gently tug at her tangled tresses, eventually freeing the visor and doing a victory dance, as “Centerfield,” blares across the field from the sound system.
In the end, Brownell edged Greater Salem Footcare, 13 to 12.. Colleen Pierce, mom of Salem Footcare pitcher Mackenzie, said watching her daughter pitch under the lights was a real moment, win or lose.
“It's a great night here tonight,” Pierce said.

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