LUMBERTON — For the West Robeson Ponytails X-Play softball team, the opening week of August brought an unforgettable experience to each of them. After winning the state tournament, the team represented North Carolina in the Dixie Youth Softball Ponytails X-Play World Series held in Ponchatoula, La and finished as the runner-up.
“It was very exciting for me,” said coach Craig Canady said. “It was probably one of the best experiences I have had as a coach. I just enjoyed it, especially taking a small town and getting them exposed to something that big.”
For many of the girls on the team, it was their first time traveling that far away from home, but it didn’t faze their play as they were one of the final teams eliminated from the tournament. The girls beat teams from Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama before forcing a three-way tie heading into the championship round, where they were eliminated by Virginia.
“It was very fun,” 13-year-old Erin Maynor said. “I like being able to go so far and play, and make it to the championship.”
“I felt like it was a once in a lifetime experience,” 13-year-old Rachel O’Neil said.
The team made it further than any other team from Robeson County has in the division, coming two wins away from taking home the top prize.
“I was just really proud of the players for them to be able to represent not only North Carolina, but our area,” Canady said. “Just realizing that our talent level here in this area is just as good as it is up the road. To see them do as well as they did among the quote softball areas of Alabama, Florida and those other states, that was my big thing.”
That’s why, after their final game, Canady didn’t have anything negative to say to the girls.
“I told them to pick their head up, that they represented the state very well,” he said. “That I was proud of them and told them to continue to work as hard as they have, and maybe next year we will get it done.”
Canady said the overall experience was one that was beneficial to the kids, not just as athletes, but as people.
“They got to meet new people,” he said “They got to see different cultures. They got to be on television playing ball. That’s something that some of these kids have never done.”
For Madison Canady, the experience of getting to the championship game was worth it all.
“I had never gone anywhere that far for softball, so I thought it was pretty fun,” Madison said. “Each tournament we got to see different pitching, different batters, and better competition as we kept going.”
Assistant coach Amy Lee Carter watched as the team grew during the run and said for her, that is what she will take away as the best moments.
“Bringing us together as a family was the most important part for me and it was just an awesome experience for everybody, individually and as a team,” Carter said.
Both Carter and coach Canady are looking forward to building on the success of the team and trying to repeat it in the years to come.
“Even though we lost, it should just make us go that much harder for next year, because we know we can compete,” Carter said.
“We have some of the older kids that are going to have to move up to the older group as well as a younger group that is coming,” Canady said. “I think we’re going to be very successful again.”