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Natalie Miller has played softball most of her life. The now-14-year-old started playing when she was just five years old. 

Going to this tournament means so much to her and her teammates. “I’ve dedicated the majority of my life to this – so, it’s nice to get to do it on a big level and get recognized,” Miller said, “we’ve all worked extremely hard for this.”

On Saturday, pitcher and second baseman’s decade-long dedication to the sport will take her and her twelve teammates farther than any Niceville Softball team. The team from Niceville will represent the entire southeastern United States at the Junior League World Series of Softball in Kirkland, Washington. It’s a big deal for the Twin Cities’ team – no Niceville-Valparaiso Junior League team has ever made it this far into the postseason. 

 

girls holding signs.
Niceville Junior Softball Players Quinn Graham, Brooke Caruthers and Natalie Miller hold their signs in front of Walmart as they raise money for their trip to Washington State. The team will start their Junior League World Series game on Saturday, July 29th against a team from Bago City, Philippines.

“It’s great to play for Niceville and represent our town. To let the world know we exist,” Miller said. 

The team will debut against the Philippines on ESPN at 11 am Central time as they start pool play. Eight of the ten teams who enter the tournament will make it to the elimination round, where they will play to become the World Series Champion – crowned on August 5th. The team will also play a team from Hudsonville, Michigan, and Kirkland, Washington – as well as a yet-unnamed team from Canada. 

The team has looked good so far in their sectional and regional competition. The players racked up 129 runs while only conceding a total of 7 and mercy-ruled all of their opponents. 

Despite the hot temperatures, Miller and her teammates and coaches set tables at the front of Niceville’s Walmart to raise funds so the parents could join them on their trip to the World Series. Only the flights and uniforms for the players are covered; the team has to come up with the rest.

When I first arrived at Wally-world, Coach Sarah Carnello, an 8th-grade English Teacher at Ruckel Middle School and a coach for the team headed to Washington for the tournament, was busy talking to shoppers – asking for donations and about the rarity of the situation. Her excitement for the team was obvious from about 100 yards away as I walked from the parking lot to her booth.

The energy translates from the coach to the team on the field. “What’s unique about our team is that our girls love to be who they are,” Carnello said. “they are not just there, playing softball. Softball means the world to them, but who they are is in how they play. they move together, because they just are more than softball. In our pregame, we just jam out to music, we ugly sing, we chant, we drum.”

 

Niceville Junior League coaches Amanda Miller and Sarah Carnello raise money for the team.

“We love to sing Bohemian Rhapsody,” Natalie Miller said with a smile. “We all know it and just sing it before all of our games.”

“It’s hard to put into words,” Carnello said about the accomplishment of making it to the World Series, “these girls grew up playing together; they are a family. Niceville isn’t a massive place. There are large cities, large areas that have big little league organizations – but what is unique about softball is in Niceville is that we have a small, tight, family feel. These girls are accountable to each other and it is about more than ball. This is more than about winning a game.”

Carnell added that most of these girls began playing together as kids before any of them stepped on the softball field. That deep level of interpersonal understanding counts for something on a team. “a lot of military families, as they get into the area, are looking for a home. They are looking for people that accept htem. Niceville is a great family atmosphere. It’s a great place to feel welcome. to live a positive lifestyle. there’s a lot of military people who live here. There was a great mentorship program from the high school coach Jamie Hensley. Those girls mentored these girls from when they were in 8U and 10U.”

Wheels up for the team is at 6 am Thursday. Once they are in Kirkland – anything can happen.

We’ll keep you updated as the team progresses through the tournament.

3 Responses

  1. Awesome work and an even better story! Get after ‘em! Let’s go, NVLL Eagles!

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