Back row: (Left to right): Manager, Michael Melendez; Coaches David Campbell and Ed Kowynia. Front row: (Left to right) Justina Costello, Kallie Hickey, Lyla Pigoni, Paige Olsen, MariaElena Melendez, Nora Graham, Maeve Toland, Josie Swanson, Olivia Righeimer, Vivien Kowynia, Grace Campbell, Yannis Villamil, Lula Smith, and Ema Beattie. (PROVIDED)

Color the Brookfield Little League 10-Under softball all-star team blue for this year’s return to the Illinois state tournament.

Second baseman Grace Campbell has used eye black in the predominant blue uniform color to decorate teammates’ faces and arms. Campbell is referred to as Papa Smurf and teammates the Smurflings also with specific names. 

“I drew the eye black for them because they’re my creations,” Campbell said. “I love the Smurfs.”

Color this team also as very determined.

After a tough loss July 24, Brookfield overcame a six-run deficit on July 25 to defeat Tri-County 16-10 at Dan Hull Field at Ehlert Park. Brookfield is two victories from the championship series of the double-elimination bracket on July 28 at Ehlert Park.

Team members are Ema Beattie, Campbell, Justina Costello, Nora Graham, Kallie Hickey, Vivien Kowynia, Nena Melendez, Paige Olsen, Lyla Pigoni, Olivia Righeimer, Lula Smith, Josie Swanson, Maeve Toland and Yannis Villamil. Mike Melendez is the manager.

Trailing Tri-County 8-2 entering the bottom of the third inning, Brookfield scored 10 runs to pull ahead for good. 

“You saw that sad look on their faces, and I told them don’t quit and there’s a lot of time left. Let’s start with one run and they ended up getting a bunch,” Mike Melendez said.

“They never quit on themselves, and this group’s just been resilient. This is my third year coaching most of these girls and they believe in each other. They listen to their coaches, and they’ve grown to tolerate us but the faith they have in themselves is just inspiring to watch.” 

Already the team has had more state success than 2021, when Brookfield was 0-3 in a round-robin state format.

Five players return from the 2021 10U state team – Campbell, Kowynia, Melendez, Pigoni and Swanson.

Brookfield qualified by winning another Little League District 9 championship, taking all three games in three innings by defeating Riverside 20-0 in the clincher after 27-4 and 22-1 victories.

“Those [five] girls [from 2021] are the core,” Mike Melendez said. “[They] wanted to get back to state because they wanted to play and have a bigger role than last year. The newer girls wanted to go, too. It sounds like a great time.” 

Brookfield opened the state tourney July 23 by defeating Sterling 13-1 limited to one inning when Sterling could no longer field nine players. Brookfield then lost to Evergreen Park 10-0 in four innings the following day.

“It wasn’t that hard to come back and focus [against Tri-County],” Nena Melendez said. “We had a bad day [Sunday]. We always come together and then we do amazing the next day.”  

Back-to-back two-run singles by Costello and Pigoni tied Tri-County 8-8 and Campbell’s two-run triple put Brookfield ahead 10-8. Hickey provided a two-run single in a three-run fourth. 

“It was the best [victory] for me personally and I think I can say that for the team, too,” Kowynia said. “I don’t like when a team blows us out of the water, and I don’t like when we blow them out of the water. I like a good game, and this was a great game. They scored. We scored. They scored. We scored. We just always were very enthusiastic that we were going to get back those runs.”

Nena Melendez pitched a complete game, allowing just two runs in three innings after Tri-County’s five-run third.

“When they were scoring lots of runs, I kept getting hard on myself. Then I tried calming down. When I calm down, I do better,” Melendez said. “And Viv [as catcher] helps me a lot because she talks to me.”