SHIRLEY -- Shirley Youth Baseball/Softball had three teams win their respective regular season Macintosh League Division Titles. So, what's their secret?
"The kids definitely have a lot of passion for playing baseball," Shirley Youth Baseball board member Erica Crawford said. "The parents and players have a lot of respect for the game and how the coaches are teaching it to their kids. The parents have just as much passion as their kids."
Shirley has the luxury of baseball and softball being the main spring sports opposed to other surrounding towns that have lacrosse to compete with.
"The numbers have really taken off these last couple years for us," Crawford said. "We had three teams compete in the minors team championship. There were 11 teams in our league and the three Shirley teams rounded out the top spots. It's crazy how much success we've had as a league this year."
Both Ayer Shirley Babe Ruth programs won their respective divisions. But the organization's success was not limited to the baseball field.
Over on the softball diamond, the U16 Shirley Panthers coached by Bobbie Jo Colburn turned in a perfect regular season at 11-0. But the Panthers fell in the championship game by one run in the seventh inning. Team captain Maddie Mitrano led the Panthers during the season with a team-high 10 home runs -- with two multi-home run games.
"The girls played solid defensively in each game," Colburn said. "Most of these girls have played together since they were eight-years-old, and it shows. When one of our main pitchers was out due to a concussion, seventh-grader Shannon Rafferty stepped up and pitched beautifully for us without complaint. Every player contributed to each and every game. It was a true team effort."
League president Donald Consalvo and his Shirley Panthers U12 team went undefeated in the regular season (18-0) before losing in the championship game to Dunstable.
"Our Majors 60s made it to the playoffs, but we were knocked out in the second playoff game by Dunstable," Crawford said.
The Rookie baseball league had three teams with the Braves, who came in first-place in the in-town round-robin tournament. Crawford, who is in charge of the T-Ball division, noted that the league opened registration up to players ages four-to-six-years-old.
"The younger teams are what feed our program for years to come," Crawford said. "Our T-Ball kids, many of whom could not throw a baseball when they started, really improved over the season. It was pretty awesome to see them grow and mature to hitting, throwing and fielding the ball."
Crawford instructs the parents of the younger players that they have to be involved with the development of their child, in addition to what the coaches teach them at practice.
"I think I started the trend of letting the four-year-olds into the league," Crawford said. "It is pretty awesome hearing the little guys tell you that they can't believe the season is over and they're going to miss you. It is really great to hear the excitement of the younger kids to continue to play."
Shirley baseball's season is not over. The Ayer Shirley U12 Panthers went to the state semifinals where it ultimately fell to Northbridge, 7-5, in the semifinal game in Milford. But Shirley still has three teams competing in both the Bay State Tournament of Champions and the newly formed Macintosh Summer Baseball League Tournament, which was started by Pepperell Youth Baseball league president Gary Gouldrup."This is the biggest summer season we ever had," Crawford said.
"It is unbelievable the number of kids we have still playing summer baseball.
The U9 team qualified for the Cal Ripken state tournament in Westminster over the weekend.
So, we are still in the thick of summer baseball, and it is a great thing."