With a softball team blessed with a ton of speed and not a lot of power, Michael Willen had a simple motto for his players going into the Super World Series: “Hit, and run really fast.”
The team, called Dingers and Stingers, did a lot of both Sept. 30 to Nov. 2 in Columbus, Ohio. It went 6-0 to capture the Super World Series title.
“We play with a little bit different style,” Willen said. “We hustle all the time. We come out of the box running, thinking double every time. We put a lot of pressure on the defense. If they bobble the ball, we’re taking an extra base.”
Willen and his brother-in-law, Jennings County native Jake Ross, put the team together in July. Willen’s wife Christina worked with former Columbus North baseball player Mickey Bell, and after Bell and Shane Willen played golf together, Bell got together a group of his former teammates to join Dingers and Stingers.
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Most of the players just graduated from college this spring.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but after we played that first tournament in Clermont (in July), you could see the potential that was there,” Willen said. “It was just a matter of getting it all together at the right time.”
Dingers and Stingers certainly did that. In July, it won the state tournament in Kokomo, then captured the regional in September at Lincoln Park.
At the Super World Series, Dingers and Stingers beat two teams from Maryland 14-1 and 11-2 on Sept. 30, then beat a team from Ohio 6-4 and a team from Tennessee 14-8 on Oct. 1. Then on Oct. 2, Dingers and Stingers beat a team from Virginia on a walk-off single by Mickey Bell to set up a rematch with the team from Tennessee that had won eight Super World Series titles.
Dingers and Stingers had little trouble in capturing the championship with a 14-6 victory.
“These guys are pretty fearless, and they don’t really realize how good the teams were that we beat,” Ross said. “These guys just believe they’re going to beat whoever is on the other side of the field. We had to play some really good teams, better than the teams we played in the regular season.”
Ross was named the tournament’s MVP. He batted .680 in the six games and had an ERA of less than 4.00 as the team’s pitcher.
But Ross was quick to credit his defense.
“This is definitely the best team that I’ve ever pitched for,” Ross said. “Every time a ball went in play, I just counted it as an out.”
Ross played baseball, wrestled and ran cross-country at Jennings County. He has been playing in softball leagues for 14 years.
But Ross called winning Super World Series MVP honors the the defining moment in his athletic career.
“You could tell it was pretty emotional for him,” Hauser graduate Barrett Finke said. “He was tearing up pretty good. It made it emotional for everybody else, just to see him that happy. It made it happy for everybody else.”
Four other players — Derek Anderson, Corey Gardner Hunter McIntosh and Will Nelson made the All-Super World team.
“Anybody can hit a slow-pitch softball,” said Anderson, who played baseball at Columbus East. “But not everybody can hit a slow-pitch softball well.”
Four of the Dingers and Stingers players — Bell, McIntosh, Will Nelson and Braden Pelley — were members of the 2012 North baseball team that went 24-3 and won a Conference Indiana championship.
McIntosh was The Republic Player of the Year that season and went on to play at South Alabama. Pelley played baseball at Franklin College.
“It was pretty exciting just to get this group of guys together, and being our first year playing slow-pitch softball, it was just kind of fun to go out and get a win,” Pelley said.
Gardner said after battling for three days, winning the championship was exciting.
“It was an unbelievable experience, especially doing it with guys that I’ve been friends with forever,” Gardner said. “It was really cool recording that last out with everybody celebrating and throwing their gloves.”
Anderson said the team prays before and after every game, and some even pray between innings.
Finke was amazed at how the players came together as a team in such a short time.
“Everybody got together like a family and a group instead of individual players and individual people,” Finke said. “We became a group of guys, and everybody leaned on each other and picked each other up when anybody was having a hard time or wasn’t doing the best. That’s what really made everybody go above and beyond and perform to their max ability. That was the most enjoyable part about it — seeing everybody get together and how close we all got over the whole process.”
Dingers and Stingers has qualified to play in the Winter Worlds in February in Orlando, Florida. But the team is looking for sponsors and may not be able to make that trip and others without securing a sponsor.
It also hopes to be able to defend its title in next year’s Super World Series.
“We’re not a one-and-done,” Ross said. “We’ll be back next year.”
The players on the Dingers and Stingers softball team that won the Super World Series:
Player/coach: Michael Willen
GM: Christina Willen