VANCOUVER, Wash. - Pendleton 11-12-year-old all-star softball manager Debbie Alger has a lot to be thankful for.
She has managed to take 12 young softball all-stars for one month on the road, survive that, and coach them into the West Regional championship game at 2 p.m. today against Kirkland, Wash.
What is the key to her success?
Patience, passion for softball and just being one of the girls. At least that is how Pendleton third baseman Makayla McKay put it.
"She is just like another girl on the team," McKay said. "Except she is in charge and our coach."
Leini Alger, who earned the pitching win over Montana in the semifinals Saturday said she enjoys her mom as the head coach.
"It's fun because we get to share in these awesome experiences," Leini said. "She is my mom and my coach. We all call her 'Moach'."
Alger along with her assistant coaches, Rod Hillmick and Lee Engblom, have coached Pendleton to the Oregon District 3 title, the Oregon state title and are just a win away from Pendleton's first-ever Majors regional title.
"We can coach these girls all we want, but these 12 girls step up and get the job done," Hillmick said. "These 12 girls are talented and very special. Plain and simple."
Unfortunately, all that success for Pendleton has come on the road, but Alger said keeping the girls loose has played a major role in how the team has fared.
"It's been a long journey, but we just try and have fun with it," said Debbie Alger after the team's only loss of the tournament, to Northern California last Sunday.
"The girls are 11-12-years old and just need to be girls sometimes."
Pressures of the tournament can run high for these young ladies, but it appears all 12 Pendleton all-stars feel no pressure at all.
"We let the girls swim at the hotels and have fun," Hillmick said. "We try not (to) cram softball down their throats 24-hours per day, but what we do ask is when they show up on the field to be focused."
Each coach has stressed that their are no individuals on the team, rather it's a team that lives by the old philosophy of one game at a time.
"We don't look ahead and we try and focus on the task at hand," Alger said. "These girls have something special and they're showing it with the way they've played."
Alger, Hillmick and Engblom share in cheers before and after each game with the team and after every win hold a private team meeting to evaluate game performances.
"These girls are talented and we have to let them play," Alger said. "The girls are coachable."
Team parents, coaching staff and team have been on the road for a long time, but all understand a trip to the Little League World Series Aug. 12-19 at Alpenrose Field in Portland would be well worth the sacrifice.
"I miss my dog, but playing in the World Series would be so awesome," said Leini, who also watched her brother, Lathan , play in the 9-10-year-old Oregon State baseball tournament.
The parents and coaching staff have been at every game in what appears to be larger numbers than most, but have all had to take time away from work.
"I told the boys back home that I'm going to miss a lot of work this summer because I believe these girls will play in the World Series," Hillmick said.
It's not often that a team from Eastern Oregon will play for a Little League regional title, but "Moach" along with Hillmick and Englblom have believed in the girls from day one and are now just one win away from the World Series.
"It would be so cool to win it for the coaches," said Pendleton shortstop Shoni Schimmel. "We're a team and our coaches mean a lot to us."
Little League West Regional
July 31: Pendleton 9, S. Calif.0
Aug. 1: N. California 5, Pendleton 0
Aug. 4: Pendleton 6, Arizona 3
Aug. 5: Pendleton 7, Nevada 0
Aug. 7: Pendleton 9, Montana 3
Today: Pendleton vs. Wash., 2 p.m.