Vivien Kowynia and her Brookfield Little League 11-Under all-star softball teammates had some tears July 23, yet they still could clearly see their bright future.
Brookfield lost to Clarendon Hills 18-7 in four innings in the state championship game at Ehlert Park but improved upon its third-place state finish as 10 year olds in 2022.
“Our team has grown a lot,” Kowynia said. “Last year, we did really well. I’m really proud of our team because we got from third to second.”
Team members are Ema Beattie, Lea Becker, Grace Campbell, Justina Costello, Nora Graham, Kallie Hickey, Kowynia, Nena Melendez, Paige Olsen, Lyla Pigoni, Lula Smith, Josie Swanson and Yannis Villamil, Mike Melendez is the manager with assistant coaches Dave Campbell and Ed Kowynia.
All but one player was part of last season’s third-place 10U state team. Brookfield also has great role models from the 12s team, which won state for the first time since 2006 and its Central Region opener , also on July 23, in Whitestown, Indiana.
“I feel like what they’ve taught us is to make sure never give up, because you can always come back. And always make sure you’re paying attention and see how fast their pitcher is,” Pigoni said.
The 12s began their regional opener 30 minutes before the 11s final. Kowynia’s sister Elly is on the 12U squad.
“I would really love to be there, but I really wanted to be here for my team also,” Kowynia said. “They were calling out the score during the game. I’m really proud of my sister and really proud of our team.”
Brookfield also was riding the momentum of going 2-0 in state tournament pool play on July 22, beating Moline 17-0 in three innings and Clarendon Hills 9-8 with four runs in the bottom of the sixth.
However, Melendez pitched a combined seven innings between the two games, which under tournament rules made her ineligible to pitch the following day for the final. Mike Melendez said had Nena worked six innings, she could have pitched as needed the next day.
“My biggest regret is I just didn’t put them in the best position to win. That’s my job as a manager,” Mike Melendez said. “That’s hard because they did everything they could. They played their hearts out. You could tell they were nervous. It was a different setup than what they’re used to. I’ll learn from it. They’ll continue to get better. They’re fantastic athletes. But this is 100 percent on me.”
Nena Melendez played shortstop in the final. In the best-of-three District 9 final against North Riverside on July 6, Melendez was Brookfield’s only pitcher, allowing one hit in two 15-0, three-inning victories with a combined 13 strikeouts and seven walks.
“I’ve been dreaming of pitching in the championship for a while. But if you couldn’t play your main position, play your other position,” Nena Melendez said. “I wish I could have pitched, but it’s fine because I did my best to get my team in the best position.”
In the July 22 win over Clarendon Hills, Campbell’s walk-off single was an infield grounder just past the pitcher to score Pigoni in rainy conditions after Melendez’s RBI single tied the game. Brookfield used five singles and two walks in the four-run comeback – all with no outs.