Rising sophomores Paige McDuffee and Mysha Sataraka of UCLA’s softball team thought their seasons had ended in a loss to the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the NCAA Regionals on May 19. But both players were given the chance to play more softball this summer.
Seventeen players were selected to compete on the United States Junior National softball team, including UCLA’s McDuffee and Sataraka.
McDuffee and Sataraka said they were surprised but honored for the opportunity to live out a dream.
“When I was little, I used to watch the girls in the USA jerseys play. We always looked up to those girls,” McDuffee said.
Sataraka and McDuffee donned the jerseys themselves from July 1-7 when the team headed to Brampton, Ontario in Canada to play in the International Softball Federation X Junior Women’s World Championship. The team went on to win the silver medal, after losing to Japan 4-0 in the final game.
Team USA advanced handily through pool play with convincing wins to gain the No. 1 seed in the double-elimination playoffs, winning by double-digits in four of the first six games that it played.
But Team USA came up short on its quest for a gold medal, losing 4-0 to Japan in the championship game on July 7.
Still, USA coach Tairia Flowers was not discouraged after the loss. Flowers praised the team for its great play and effort during the tournament.
“I’m proud of this team and how far they’ve come,” Flowers said. “They have so much talent and personality and it showed during our time together, for us to only give up runs in one inning out of the entire tournament, I think it says a lot for our team and what we’re capable of.”
An early end in the sixth inning of the U.S. team’s loss in the finals because of rain made the defeat even tougher on the players.
“It was rough to have it end that way,” Sataraka said. “At the end, there were girls trying to pick up the water off the field. It showed how much our team wanted to continue to play and get that last inning to try and catch up to them.”
Sataraka and McDuffee both performed well individually in the tournament to help their team in the tournament.
Sataraka started all nine games and finished the tournament batting .455 with three home runs – a team-best – with 16 runs batted in. McDuffee pitched three times, throwing six and two-thirds scoreless innings, striking out five and giving up only three hits.
Both players said that their performances against teams from around the world gave them confidence for next season at UCLA. But they said the loss in the championship game showed they still needed to keep getting better.
“It definitely does give me confidence,” Sataraka said. “But, getting that silver medal brought me back down to the ground, knowing that I’m not there yet and I need to, personally, keep working hard over the summer to prepare for the season coming up.”
The players considered the tournament a learning experience, and will head back to UCLA with a new appreciation for the game.
“I want to remember to bring back (the idea) that softball is a game and we are playing it because we love it,” Sataraka said.