MLB.com Columnist

Shannon Ford

USA Junior team puts on exhibition for RBI teams

Young softball players learn about hard work from national team

USA Junior team puts on exhibition for RBI teams

FLORENCE, KY -- A game-tying, seventh-inning homer by designated hitter Julia Cottrill sent the crowd to its feet in USA Softball's Junior National Team exhibition game at Florence Freedom Field on Thursday night.

Cottrill, a high school junior, is one of the many young women setting an example for the competing teams in the Softball Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) World Series this week, and they've been impressed with the field of talent.

"A lot of determination and a lot of ambition from a lot of them, even though I've heard a lot of 'Oh, I don't play travel ball,' and they don't really have a lot of opportunities," said USA Junior infielder/pitcher Bubba Nickles. "This RBI MLB is the perfect opportunity and just one step closer to doing what you want to do in your future, not just in softball, but career-wise, and I think it's a really cool experience to see them meet not only us but the MLB Commissioner."

RBI Softball roundtable

 This USA Junior softball squad is hot off winning gold at the WBSC Junior Women's Softball World Championship in Clearwater, Fla., ousting No. 1 Japan in a home run-loaded 13-4 victory.

"I was on cloud nine, really shook that I made the team. It's a dream come true," said Texas native Baylee Kingler. "The dogpile on the field was awesome, and it was just a great feeling."

The 6-6 Blue-White Team USA exhibition tie capped the team's visit, which included a roundtable discussion emphasizing the importance of hard work.

"Work really hard, don't ever take this game too seriously -- it still is a game -- have fun with it, but really just play every game like it's your last," said Nickles.

Hard work is a value instilled in Team USA's Junior National Team by mentors like Olympic gold medalist and assistant coach Natasha Watley and head coach Laura Berg, who is a three-time gold medalist.

"I prepared a lot; it wasn't easy. I wasn't able to go and hang out with my friends, you know, outside of softball," said Nickles. "It was more just get my work in and work really hard and have fun at the same time."

These idols set an example of what a player can accomplish through hard work, and Atlanta and St. Louis' RBI teams are hopeful some of their greatness rubbed off heading into Friday's championship game.

"A big W because we are ready." said Nala Moore of what we can expect from her squad, Team Atlanta. "We're going to be really hyped [Friday]."

Shannon Ford is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shannon_Ford. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.