VERNON HILLS — In his 12 years as a travel softball coach, Vernon Hills Stingers coach David Doerhoefer said he hasn’t had a team more collaborative or with more chemistry than this year’s group.
The team has no cliques, nor have the girls been hung up on positions, he said.
“I can’t put my finger on it. This is just a very special group of kids,” Doerhoefer said.
The Stingers, an 18-U, fast-pitch softball team with the United States Specialty Sports Association, won the Fall Freeze-Out. The Sept. 20-21 event in Waukegan included 10 teams from the Chicago area and Wisconsin.
The tournament was a World Series qualifier, so the Stingers are eligible to play for the USSSA title in July in Orlando.
Doerhoefer said the team trailed in each of its three games, but came back to win each by one run. In the championship game against the Mundelein Stampede, the Stingers were down by six before tying the game in the fifth inning and winning in extra innings.
“All three were extremely close and extremely exciting games,” Doerhoefer said.
The team is a blend of seven veterans and five new players. Tryouts were held in early August.
“The five kids we’ve been able to add have really upped the quality of what we’re able to produce on the field,” Doerhoefer said.
Maya Caballero, 17, of Morton Grove, played three games with the team in June and joined after tryouts in August. She said the group has a lot of talent and wants to win.
“That’s the reason I wanted to play with these girls: They’re all softball,” said Caballero, a pitcher and outfielder.
Outfielder/second baseman Sami Saliba of Vernon Hills had a .500 batting average for the tournament weekend. Dana Dolinko of Wilmette batted .444.
“Those two were the hitting stars of the team,” Doerhoefer said.
Brooke Sowa of Gurnee and Caballero were the pitching leaders, Doerhoefer said. Shortstop/center fielder Dana Meline of Vernon Hills, third baseman Carolyn Dwyer of Skokie and shortstop/center fielder Melissa Goldberg of Lake Zurich were standouts in the field.
“It’s a very new team and that’s probably the thing that struck me the most. The girls played so well together, it looked like they had been playing together for years,” Doerhoefer said.
He said that’s a testament to the veteran players for accepting the new ones, and the new players for assimilating.
“The strength of this team is the character and the resiliency,” Doerhoefer said.
Veteran player Dolinko, 17, said she enjoys coming to practice and has liked getting to know the new players. Dolinko is a utility player who pitches, catches, plays outfield and second base.
“We all get along really well,” she said. “Being close to each other also helps us perform well on the field.”
If the team was capable of such an outcome in its first tournament together, Dolinko said, the future is bright.
“I think we have a lot more tournament wins to come,” Caballero said.