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Queens Chronicle

Ozone Howard ‘never gave up’

End of the road for scrappy softball team that won state championship

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Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:57 pm, Thu Aug 1, 2019.

Heartbreaker.

After cruising through its first two games in the regional championship tournament in Bristol, Conn. this week, the Ozone Howard Little League softball team was eliminated with two hard losses in a single day.

The Cinderella run ended Tuesday night when the Bulldogs lost to the New Jersey state champs, 5-0, with the bases loaded and the tying run waiting to come to bat.

The ten ladies had scored 32 runs in their first three games, a huge offensive showing.

But big bats could carry them only so far.

“Obviously, it was a sad night. But they never gave up,” said Tiffani Spinelli, who has been coaching this team with Lou Piazza since the players were eight years old.

“This has been a dream for me,” said Spinelli, who played in the Ozone Howard Little League when she was growing up and had coached in the league since she was a teenager.

“No team in Ozone Howard, girls or boys, has ever gone this far before,” she said.

Back in Ozone Park and Howard Beach, friends and family followed the games live on ESPN online.

The team won the New York state championship two weeks ago in upstate Fishkill, NY to qualify for the regional championships series with the best young teams on the East Coast.

The regional championship is the final stop before the national World Series in Portland, Ore.

Rained out by the torrential downpours that blanketed the East Coast Monday, the Ozone Howard team lost its first game of the double-elimination tournament, 12-10, a nail biter against the Connecticut state championship team.

The team played from behind the entire game but came back twice to tie it and send the game into extra innings.

It was the first game the team had lost in nearly two months.

The afternoon defeat forced the team to play an elimination game against New Jersey that same night.

The final was a tight game all the way into the last inning — the ladies play six innings — when New Jersey broke it open with three runs which the Bulldogs could not match.

It was, in all, a Tuesday to remember for both the players and the parents who had followed their daughters on the two-hour drive north to Bristol.

Since last Saturday, many of the parents stayed in motels while the players stayed at the softball facility in specially built dorms with players from the other nine teams and a few chaperones.

In the dorm, stunned by their first loss since Memorial Day, “they cried it out,” said Spinelli.

“I told Lou, ‘You got to talk to them.’ And he did.

“It looked like a scene from one of those sports movies,” she said.

“Her told them it didn’t matter how many times they got knocked down. What was important was how many timesw you get back up.”

The teammates, who have been playing together, more or less, for the last four years and won the regional championship in the junior division two years ago, had started the tournament in a whirlwind.

They crushed the top teams from Maryland and Delaware over the weekend, winning the first game, 12-2, and the second 10-1.

Just before the start of the New Jersey game, it was announced that the New York team had been named the winners of the tournament’s annual sportsmanship award, a mark of the respect the ladies earned from the other teams during their five days in Bristol.

“And it was given out before last game,” said Spinelli. “It wasn’t something they did out of pity. People here were really impressed with how these girls conducted themselves”

The end of the road may have been harder on the parents and coaches than the young players, the coach admitted.

“They have to hold it,” she said of the disappointment. “They have to act like its OK, so the kids don’t see.”

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