When the Pioneer all-stars got together for their first practice, the idea of going to the Little League Softball World Series probably seemed like a million miles away -- or at least 2,700 miles, the distance between Columbus and Portland, Ore.
However, Pioneer was able to overcome the odds -- winning the state and Southeast Region championships both out of the losers bracket.
Now, the 12 girls and three coaches are now headed to Portland for that world series, which gets underway Thursday.
"We're very excited," pitcher/shortstop Raelee Weaver said. "Everybody's dream is to get to play in the world series, and we're getting a chance to do that. We said at the beginning of all-star practice that our theme was, 'One Team, One Dream' and now we get a chance to live our dream of playing in the world series."
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Even though Pioneer won't leave for Oregon until Tuesday, outfielder Kennedi Bedell wishes she was already there.
"This has all been really fun," Bedell said. "I'm very excited. I can't wait."
The team will arrive in Portland late Tuesday. After the opening ceremonies and a skills challenge Wednesday, Pioneer will have an off day Thursday before opening pool play Friday at 10 p.m. against the Oregon District 4 champions.
Each team will have four pool-play games and the top two teams from each pool will advance to the semifinals on Aug. 12.
The championship game will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Aug. 13 starting at 9 p.m.
Third baseman Kamdyn Fuller said she and her teammates have received a lot of attention since winning the region championship in Warner Robins last month. Pioneer won five straight elimination games to win that title and punch their ticket to Oregon.
"It's been exciting," Fuller said. "We've only had one day off since we won the title (July 28). Once we got back (to Columbus), we had a ton of messages from people here in Columbus congratulating us on what we'd done."
Pioneer's run in Warner Robins included a three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning of the first championship game against Virginia to win, 7-6, and force a second title game, which Pioneer won, 8-2.
So, how does a team win so many must-win games where the pressure is ratcheted up a few notches?
"We work hard and fight," pitcher/shortstop Sammie Cotton said. "When somebody makes an error, we just pick each other up and encourage each other. It's a good feeling to know that our hard work helped us win a region championship."
Pioneer manager Chuck Landrum said he sometimes finds himself in awe of what his players do on the diamond.
"From a coaching standpoint, when I'm in the dugout and watching them perfectly executing what we're teaching them, it's breathtaking," Landrum said. "These kids are very easy to coach up, and we certainly appreciate the talent that we have on this team. When this team executes like it's capable of and focuses, they're phenomenal. They're all about softball, except when it comes time to eat. That's the only thing that takes their focus away from softball."
Landrum said he's proud of what his team has done so far, but their eye is now on a bigger prize: a world series championship.
"We certainly don't want to be satisfied where we are," Landrum said. "We want the girls to have fun, but we also want them to know there's a bigger challenge out there for them, and the world series is a bigger challenge for us. We need to accept that challenge and strive and drive for something more. I think we can do that, but it's going to be about accountability and everybody doing their job."
All of the Pioneer all-stars are excited to be heading to the world series, but utility player Jada Chadwick said she and her teammates want to come back to Columbus with a championship.
"We've won because of defense and teamwork," Chadwick said. "If we want to win (the World Series), we can't make any errors. We also need to have good team chemistry and keep our heads in the game the whole time."