She may have long black hair cascading out the back of her hat, but when Mo'Ne Davis gets ready to unleash a pitch, her Little League opponents are thinking way more about her 70-mile-an-hour fastball than her gender.
Davis, 13, is one of the stars of the Taney Dragons, the Mid-Atlantic champions from Philadelphia who kicked off their Little League World Series tournament on Friday afternoon, beating South Nashville, Tennessee 4-0 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Davis became the first girl on an American team in the Little League World Series in 10 years and one of 18 in history on any World Series team when she took the mound on Friday.
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"Don't let anyone stop you from doing what you like,'' Davis told TODAY's Kristen Dahlgren about inspiring other girls. "Just keep dreaming and go for it."
A big reason the Taney Dragons are in Williamsport is Davis, who struck out six in a complete-game, three-hit shutout in an 8-0 win in the regional final. She is one of two girls in the World Series; a Canadian team from Vancouver includes Emma March, who plays first base and pitches.
With a blazing fastball and a knee-buckling curveball, Davis is a force at 5-foot-4 and 105 pounds. She had 17 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings during the regional tournament in Bristol, Connecticut. Her performance has complemented other Taney standouts like shortstop Jared Sprague-Lott, second baseman Jahli Hendricks, catcher Scott Bandura, third baseman Jack Rice, and outfielder Zion Spearman.
"She's a great player,'' coach Alex Rice told Dahlgren. "Once the curiosity, or whatever, wears off quick, and they just recognize her as a very good baseball player."
In addition to being dominant on the mound, Davis is no slouch at the plate, either.
"When she hits a home run, we like to say that she hits like a girl,'' Rice said.
Outside of staying in a different dorm from her male teammates during the tournament, she is treated like any other member of the team. Any gawking from opponents quickly evaporates thanks to her fastball.
"I end up striking them out (on the opposing team), and I look at my teammates and they're laughing, so I just laugh with them,'' she said.
Davis originally played softball, but decided it wasn't for her and switched to baseball when she was 7 years old. She is also a basketball standout who hopes to play for the powerhouse University of Connecticut women's hoops team one day. For now, she will be the first girl since Meghan Sims of Owensboro, Kentucky in 2004 to play for an American team at the Little League World Series. During her time in Williamsport, she hopes to take the focus away from her gender and put it on her fastball.
"I just want to be a baseball player,'' she said.