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The Philadelphia Daily News

She struts to the plate nodding to "Run the World (Girls)" by Beyonce. Her long, black braids swing uncontrollably when she whips heat from 46 feet away. But for as long as anyone in the Philadelphia region has cared, Mo'Ne Davis has never been the average female baseball player.

Taney Little League's ace was unknown outside the city until Sunday, when she threw a shutout against a team from Newark, Del., and sent her team to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

At this point in her young career, Mo'Ne has reached rock-star status. Rapper Lil Wayne, Basketball Hall of Fame guard Magic Johnson and more have tweeted about her accomplishments on the mound. She's been interviewed by "Inside Edition," and ESPN has covered her recent successes.

But among them all, one question remains: Can she play baseball when she gets to high school? Well, more than a dozen coaches in Philadelphia's Catholic, Public and Inter-Academic leagues answered with a resounding "yes."

"Oh, absolutely," said Joe Falcone, St. Joseph Prep's varsity coach. "I reached out to the coaching staff at Taney to congratulate them and see if there were any kids on the team who were thinking about the Prep. My nephew, who asked me, was unaware that the Prep was all boys, and he asked if she could play for me. And if this was a coed school, she would. There's no doubt she can play high school baseball if she progresses like this."

Tom Juhas, a former junior varsity coach at George Washington High, said he wouldn't care if she was "a girl, a guy, a Martian or had 12 heads. I don't see how anyone would have a problem with it at all."

Mo'Ne, 13, an honors student at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, throws a 70-mph fastball with motion, a curveball that starts at the top of the strike zone and ends at the bottom, a changeup and possibly a knuckleball, more than some pitchers can control by the time they are 21.

And while some baseball purists could still be resisting change at the next level, the way Frankford coach Juan Namnun sees it, it wouldn't be the first time that a girl from Philly has shown so much promise that hardball coaches wanted her on their side.

A few years ago, Namnun said, Yamaris Clemente, a relative of Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, played softball at Frankford before attending Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y.

"A baseball player is a baseball player," Namnun said. "If they can play, they can play. Mo'Ne Davis would have a place on my team."

Kevin Schneider, head baseball coach at Ss. Neumann-Goretti, who has coached the elite 12-under travel team Gallagher Select in New Jersey, said he'll be "reaching out to her soon."

"I'd say 100 percent [she'd make the team], and I'd be totally open for it," Schneider said. "I don't care about any of that stuff at the end of the day; I need players that are going to win games. Boy or girl, if they have that type of ability, they're in."

Schneider said he'd love to see her at Neumann-Goretti, "especially because I hear how good she is at basketball, too. She can be a double threat."

"What stands out for me, too, beyond the physical stuff, beyond her tremendous curve and fastball, is her mound presence. Her baseball IQ came right through the screen. She had one kid from Delaware tying himself in knots. She was off-the-charts better than them."

According to PIAA regulations revised in June, girls can play on a boys team if a school does not offer a comparable sport; the PIAA does not consider softball comparable to baseball.

"If you can pitch softball, then I don't see why you couldn't pitch hardball," Overbrook coach Rendell Ivory said. "But there are still some differences to where Davis is currently at, compared to the high school ranks."

Little League pitchers throw from 46 feet, compared with 60 feet 6 inches in high school baseball. But that doesn't mean with another year of experience Mo'Ne couldn't sling strikes from the same distance as other incoming freshmen. West Philadelphia High's Adam Kuchemba and Juhas both played with girls on their Little League teams and wished the girls had kept playing with the boys.

Springside Chestnut Hill coach Joe Ishikawa would welcome Mo'Ne if she remained there for high school.

"I don't see why she couldn't play in the Inter-Ac; I don't think we have a rule for it," Ishikawa said. "One, she's a very smart pitcher. Two, she has a very good makeup on the mound. You couldn't tell if she struck out the last batter or walked the last batter. Her technique is perfect."

The atmosphere surrounding women in baseball is rapidly changing. With every fastball and every batter that swings senseless during Taney's stretch in the LLWS, more girls will want to be like Mo'Ne.

Though Archbishop Ryan's Gerry Eck doesn't like Little League ball, he loves the example Mo'Ne and the Taney Dragons are setting for inner-city baseball.

Whether the Dragons win the championship, Mo'Ne has a few suitors lined up, come time for high school baseball.

And as most people were the first time they saw her hurl a blazing fastball or a dizzying curve, Archbishop Carroll's Chris Dengler was simply "shocked."

"I don't care, boy, girl, freshman or senior, if you are one of the best players on the field, you should be playing the game," Dengler said. "If you love the sport, then you should be allowed to play. I know there has been controversy with women in male sports, but baseball isn't a contact sport. And as far as anything Catholic League, baseball would be a level playing field, no matter who you are."

On Twitter: @TylerRickyTynes

 

August 13, 2014
 
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