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Apollo softball team exits state tournament

| Sunday, July 26, 2009

It was a rough weekend for the Apollo Little League Senior Division softball team.

The girls, ages 14-16, lost by double-digits twice in the state tournament at the West Point Little League Complex, but Apollo officials are hoping for brighter days ahead regarding the program.

Apollo exited the seven-team tournament with an 11-0 loss to Corry on Saturday.

Apollo was limited to three hits. Baileigh Dafft, 15, pitched well, but four errors and a three-run homer by Shelby Liller in the fifth inning put Corry in the driver's seat.

Corry moves into the semifinals today at Noon at West Point.

The other semifinal will take place at 2:30 p.m., and today's winners will return for the title game at 6 p.m. Monday.

Apollo reached the state tournament without playing any games in District 26 or state sectional play.

"No other 14-16 teams were entered," said Apollo manager Denny Gabrielli. "But we played a regular-season schedule against Leechburg, Bell-Avon and Kiski Valley. You just play who you can."

Apollo, like many other small communities, is battling low population numbers and youngsters involved in multiple activities. But the league wants to fill the softball program with players from the five different age groups.

"That's our ultimate goal," Gabrielli said. "We'd like to stay together for the rest of the summer and fall, but some of the girls have high school volleyball and other girls will be entered in band camp and majorette camp. It can be tough with this age group, so we'll see if we have enough for the fall."

Kayla Percic doubled yesterday for Apollo, and Tara Esposito singled and reached third. To illustrate how things were going for Apollo, Lindsey Shellhammer was hit by a pitch. Ashley Dumm followed with a hard-hit ball on the right side of the diamond that struck Shellhammer for an out, though Dumm was credited with a single in the box score. Dumm was out trying to take third on a passed ball.

The team was comprised of virtually the Apollo-Ridge High School junior varsity program.

Corry benefitted from a long-established program, representing the Erie area. Corry softball coach Steve Skalos, also the Corry High School varsity head coach, stresses a common theme throughout the levels of 15 teams in the program.

"We stress the same type of pitching style, then we worked on hitting and defense with all the Little league coaches," Skalos said.

Spring often is late in coming to Erie County, so Skalos has the team take a trip to either Disney World or Tennessee to get some games in. That also gives the younger girls incentive to work their way toward the high school program and travel south. The Little League has won four state softball titles, while the high school has been in the PIAA playoffs the last nine seasons.

"I don't mind the travel," Skalos said. "It's only about three hours to here, and I've taken teams all around the Pittsburgh area in my 19 years with the league."

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