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‘This has to be a strike’

Two JC United teams win state championships

Published: Wednesday, July 12, 2017 9:06 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, July 12, 2017 9:28 a.m. CST
(Submitted Photo)
PCM-area USSSA 12U softball team JC United takes a group shot after clinching the state championship June 11 against at team from Bussey. Pictured: (front row) Kiera Nelson, Skylar Burns, Kyla Stout, Ashlyn Alleger and Danica Linn. (Middle row) Cate Humpal, Lily Ladehoff, Riley DeVore, RaeAnn Duinink and JayLynn Donahoo. (Back row) coaches Justin Humpal, Leslie Duinink and Ervan DeVore.

This is part 1 in a two-part series featuring PCM-area JC United’s two state championship softball teams. The 11U and 12U teams both collected championship rings June 11 and 18, respectively.

Pitcher Riley DeVore knew one more out would win it. It was the state championship game June 11 for the PCM-area JC United 12U team in the USSSA league. They had battled back from a 6-2 deficit to take the game into extra innings against the team from Bussey.

JC United now had a 7-6 lead, and Riley was determined to make sure this was the last at bat.

“I remember throwing the last pitch in the championship game, thinking this has to be a strike,” she said. “The girl up to bat hit the ball to our second baseman. She made the throw to first base and made the out. At that moment, we all knew we were state champions.”

DeVore said the title ring shows just how hard JC United’s 12U has worked the last several years beginning in that first 2-10 record fall ball season. This was her dad Ervan DeVore’s last season coaching USSSA softball, and she said it made the final play all the more meaningful.

The day was special for the entire team, including JC United player Ashlyn Alleger.

“Being a champion to me means you have to want it. You need to work hard, have fun, be a good teammate and most of all listen to your coaches,” she said.

The PCM-area JC United teams were founded several years ago by coach Danel Drake and several parents who wanted their girls to play at a more competitive level. Fast forward to 2017, JC United now has four teams ranging in age from 8 to 12 years old. Drake’s 11U team also won the state title in June.

They’re traveling tournament teams. The 12U group has five girls from Prairie City, three from Monroe and two from Colfax.

Ervan DeVore’s girls aged out of the 11U bracket in 2015, and decided to form a 12U team. The jump was not easy, the coach said. Between those two age groups the ball size bumps from 11 to 12 inches and the pitching circle moves back five feet. Add on more rules and the girls had a tough first season ahead. In their 2017 championship run, JC United 12U went 17-6. But DeVore said their first time out in fall of 2015 was exactly the reverse.

“We got slaughtered. I remember girls hanging their heads. We were getting beat up a lot, but (coaches) kept saying just trust us, trust us. When you guys are the old 12-year-olds, if you trust us, we can win a state title,” DeVore said.

The biggest challenge with USSSA, Ervan said, is the girls aging out of the league. Next year, if the team wants to stay together, they’ll have to form a 14U to compete. The coach sees USSSA ball as competitive, and the demands on players are higher than that of little league.

“It’s a big commitment. Little league, you sign up and you play. You sign up, pay $25 to $30 registration and you play ball. A travel team, in both the financial and time commitment, it could be $300 to $400 per weekend for the team,” he said. “We split that amongst the families, but it’s a lot higher quality of play.” 

Ervan said all 10 girls contributed to JC United’s success, and they had a little fun along the way.

“I had a fun relationship with the girls,” he said. “(They) always picked on my choice of words. They know what I mean when I say ‘It’s a lot funner winning than losing, but no matter what keep your head up.’”

This year the JC United 12U team played competitive ball and were on a three-game win streak entering championship week. They won six games in the final tournament alone to take the state title. They’ve played games in Perry, Oskaloosa, Dallas Center and throughout central Iowa, but one thing short stop Kyla Stout knows is throughout their travels, troubles and triumphs, JC United never gave up.

“I always try to encourage my teammates to be the best they can be and to never give up. Running less than 110 percent is how you get thrown out,” Stout said. “When we were in the championship game, everyone was nervous. We were down by a lot in the first couple of innings, but we kept our heads held high and came back to win it. My team never gave up and that’s how we became state champs.”

Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@myprairiecitynews.com

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