The River Forest Youth Baseball and Softball 14U softball team holds the Illinois state championship banner July 11 after defeating Sterling 18-0 to claim back-to-back state titles. The team plays in the Junior Little League Central Regional in Pendleton, Indiana from July 20-23, with the tournament winner advancing to the World Series in Kirkland, Washington. | Dena Samatas

The River Forest Youth Baseball/Softball 14U softball team successfully defended its Little League state title July 11 in Brookfield.

The team opened the state tournament with three consecutive victories, but then lost 7-3 on July 11 to Sterling. However, River Forest defeated Sterling in the nightcap 18-0 to punch its ticket to the Little League Central Regional Juniors tournament in Pendleton, Indiana, which begins July 20.

“It was fun,” said head coach Nick Samatas. “One of my other coaches, Steve Jasinski, and I have been coaching the kids in River Forest since they were 8 years old, so it was a great experience.”

The 14U team is comprised of the following players: C.C. D’Alise, Ava Dine, Katie Elza, Olivia Gall, Lily Harmon, Nicole Jasinski, Ella O’Brien, Ginny Redmond, Madeline Roginski, Grace Samatas (Nick’s daughter), Lilette Teclaw, and Charlie Terry. D’Alise, Jasinski and Grace Samatas were also part of last year’s state champions.

Scott Elza is the team’s other assistant coach.

“We’re having fun this year,” said Nick Samatas of the key to the team’s success. “The kids have a lot of defensive skills, so we just try to focus on our hitting.”

The 14U team also displayed fortitude after losing the first game to Sterling, which had to win twice since River Forest entered the day undefeated in the double-elimination format.

“The first game, the girls were a little nervous,” Samatas said. “We talked to them and settled in, and they stepped up in the second game. It was great.”

River Forest now turns its attention to the Little League Central Regional, which features teams from Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin. Last year, the team won one of their three games, an experience Samatas described as an “eye-opener.”

“There’s tough competition for sure; they’re all state champions,” he said. “We’re focused on the hitting so much, because we’re going to see faster pitching. The defense is already there for our kids, and hopefully they’ll be ready to hit against some very good pitchers.”

Grace Samatas pitched for the Trinity High School varsity softball team this spring as a freshman and acquitted herself well. Nick Samatas feels that experience will help this week.

“Grace went from travel ball to seven-inning games for Trinity,” he said. “She got stronger and her stamina improved, and she doesn’t give up in the circle. Grace’s play with the older girls helped us a lot.”

River Forest opens up double-elimination play July 20 against a team from Michigan at 2 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN Plus as well as the GameChanger app. The tournament runs through July 23, with the champion advancing to the Junior Little League Softball World Series, which takes place July 30 through Aug. 5 in Kirkland, Washington.

The team is asking members of the community to help defray the travel costs. If you’re interested in making a donation, you can mail checks to the following address:

River Forest Youth Baseball and Softball, P.O. Box 5225, River Forest, 60305. On the check, write 14U Girls Softball in the memo area.

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