Smyrna-Clayton gears up for Senior League softball East Regional

The Smyrna-Clayton all-stars won their first ever state title this summer. Submitted photo/Ginger Barkley

SMYRNA — The Smyrna-Clayton Senior League softball all-stars will pack up today and hit the road to a place they’ve never been before.

Smyrna-Clayton will make its debut at the Senior League East Regional this weekend in Worcester, Mass. Its first game is scheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m. against New Jersey.

“It’s the first time so it’s very exciting,” said pitcher Jen Payton. “I think it’s going to be fun. We’re happy we’re going.”

Smyrna-Clayton is guaranteed at least four games at Regionals.

It will play New York on Sunday (9 a.m.), Pennsylvania on Monday (11:30 a.m.) and Maryland on Tuesday (12:30 p.m.). The top four teams in each five-team pool make it to the knockout round which takes place Wednesday and Thursday.

“We’ve been talking it up, just how cool this opportunity is,” said Smyrna-Clayton manager Pat Long. “I think the girls know that. For a lot of people, this is a once in a lifetime type of thing.”

“We really don’t know what to expect but we want it to be a celebration of what we’ve accomplished so far,” Long added. “I think everyone is just looking forward to meeting all these players from other states and enjoying their time there, no matter what happens.”

Smyrna-Clayton entered the summer having never won even a District title at the Senior League level.

This group was close though, finishing as a runner-up the last three seasons. It got over the hump for the District championship before knocking off Suburban, the District II champions, two games to zero in a best-of-three series last week.

Smyrna-Clayton’s final win saw it rally from two separate seven-run deficits. It clinched its first Senior League state title after that comeback on a walkoff single by Tanaya Wilson.

What Long remembers most about that night was the support from the Smyrna-Clayton community.

“There were a ton of people from the community who came out to the game and some didn’t even have kids on the team,” Long said. “That was awesome to see, seeing everyone wearing red and cheering us on. That’s what fueled these girls. We’ve seen that community backing before at the high school, so to have that with the Little Lass program is great.”

With all the near-misses over the past couple of seasons, the coaching staff was cautiously optimistic heading into the District I tournament. But when the coaches saw the final roster, Long said they thought they had a shot at it.

The team includes a several players who are on the junior varsity squad at Smyrna High, some from the middle school team and a few more who only play softball with the Smyrna Little Lass program.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, this is pretty good,’” Long said. “We thought we would have a better chance this year. We have a good makeup of girls. The unique thing is we only have one or two travel-ball players. We have a handful of high school JV and middle school players but the rest are just Little League players. The fact that we were able to go out and compete against the travel-ball pitching we saw in districts and states, that makes you feel good.”

Payton credited the team’s success so far to the chemistry between the players.

“We’re all friends, even before we were on the same team,” Payton said. “That made it easy to connect with each other and play. We’ve played together for a while so that helped a lot too. It got us in sync.”

Smyrna-Clayton has spent the past week recuperating from the grind of the district and state tournaments. It played eight games in nine days before it had a full week off to practice.

Long is hopeful the squad can pick up right where it left off once the games begin again.

“All of a sudden there’s a week off and the adrenaline wears off,” Long said. “You kind of lose that fire. So we’re trying to keep everyone still going. We still have a minimum of four games left to play, so we want to get that fire back in everyone’s belly.”

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