Kayla Roncin and Mo'ne Davis are competing to make it to the Little League World Series, a rare feat for girls. But to get there, one girl's team may have to knock off the other's team.
Mo'ne is a star pitcher for Taney Youth Baseball Association Little League in Philadelphia, while Kayla typically plays first base for her team in Toms River, New Jersey. If their teams win Friday in the semifinals, they'll face each other Sunday in the regional championship with the winner advancing to the World Series starting Aug. 14 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
"It's great,'' said Peter Avallone, Toms River manager. "I don't know if it's ever happened at this high level, at a regional final. I'm going to smile.''
Kayla, who is 12, plays great defense and gets timely hits, Avallone said. He and others said he hopes the success of the two girls inspires more girls to play Little League.
"It would be really neat to have two very good female players in the same game,'' said Alex Rice, the Taney manager. "I think that would be perfect for Little League and for baseball in general.''
It may be the first time two girls are competing at the same time in the regional tournament for a World Series spot, said Brian McClintock, a Little League spokesman. Only 16 girls have played in the Little League World Series in the past 67 years, he said.
As of Thursday morning, 24 teams remained in the U.S. Regional Tournaments in seven regions. Toms River won the world series in 1998.
Mo'ne, who is 13, said Wednesday before her game in Bristol that it would be fun to finally play against another girl. She said she's looking forward to playing Toms River.
"I just want to play them to see where we are in competition level,'' Mo'ne said.
Girls playing in Little league is not new and Mo'ne's approach reflects that. She recently struck out 10 batters in her team's victory and said there isn't much of a difference playing against boys.
"We're playing the same game,'' she said.
Sometimes, opposing players are curious to see a girl on the other team. But curiosity can quickly turn to concern.
"She pretty much shut our hitting down,'' said Dave Dauerty, parent of a Delaware player. "The other boys just couldn't get ahold of the ball against her.''
Rice calls Mo'ne his big-game pitcher and says she throws about 70 mph.
"She's one of the core team leaders,'' he said. "She's unflappable.''
Rice also complimented Kayla, calling her a good hitter and fielder.
"She's one of the reasons Toms River is where they are right now,'' Rice said.
Kayla, who has 12 career home runs, has been batting .500 over four games, said her father, Ray, a team coach. He said she loves competition.
"She refuses to ever give up on anything,'' Roncin said.
During Wednesday's victory by Toms River, Kayla flew out to deep right field in her only at bat.
"Just missed it,'' said Anthony Schifilliti, whose son Joe played on the team.
Schifilliti said his 9-year-old daughter, Sophia, admires Kayla.
"Kayla is like her star, behind her brother, of course,'' he said.