SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Maddy Freking might be a young woman of few words, but thanks to her big plays on Little League's biggest stage, she's making a Mo'ne-like impact.
Freking is the first girl to play in the Little League World Series since 2014, when Mo'ne Davis and Emma March both made it to Williamsport and Davis captivated the country with her pitching wizardry.
"It's an honor," said Freking, the starting second baseman for the Coon Rapids-Andover (Minnesota) team. "I also think it's really cool to be, out of however many boys, the 19th girl to be here."
On Sunday, Freking also became the sixth girl to take the mound at the LLWS. She toed the rubber with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the second inning for her team, which represents the Midwest Region. She caught a Southeast (Loudon, Virginia) opponent looking at strike three for the second out before sprinting off the mound to make a spectacular sliding play and fire the ball home for the final out of the inning.
Freking started the third inning on the mound and was eventually relieved as Minnesota lost 11-0. On Monday night, Minnesota fell 10-0 in four innings to Louisiana in an elimination game.
Being the only girl among the field of 16 teams might be "cool," but what really matters to this matter-of-fact Minnesotan is making plays.
"She's quiet, but she leads by example," said Minnesota manager Greg Bloom, who has coached Freking since she was 10. "Her teammates have never treated her any differently because she's a girl."
To them, she's just a ballplayer.
"We're not surprised when she makes a great play," teammate Wyatt Myers said. "She does it every game."
Freking strikes out batter and makes great play in field
Minnesota's Maddy Freking -- the first girl to play in the LLWS since Mo'ne Davis -- records a strikeout and makes a great play to throw out a runner at home vs. Virginia.
In the Midwest Regional championship, with Minnesota trailing Iowa 5-1 in the fourth inning and the bases loaded, Freking snared a line drive and alertly fired a laser across the diamond to third to double off the Iowa runner and shut down a rally. Minnesota went on to win 8-6 and advance to Williamsport. In Minnesota's opening LLWS win against Kentucky on Thursday, Freking led her team in assists.
Bloom called her the best defensive second baseman he has coached. "She's a vacuum," he said. "Everything that gets hit near her, she picks it up."
Freking's defensive wizardly might be old hat to her teammates, but the rest of the world is taking note.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had high praise for the 12-year-old as he watched her while Pittsburgh was in Williamsport to take on the Chicago Cubs in the MLB Little League Classic, comparing her to New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. "The last time I saw that much blond hair throwing that hard, it was Syndergaard," Hurdle said during the game. Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve donned a Freking jersey prior to her team's game Friday.
And Maria Pepe -- who was barred from playing for the Hoboken Little League in 1972 after just three games, sparking a case that was ultimately decided in the New Jersey Superior Court and effectively broke down the barriers to sports for girls -- is inspired too.
"I'm watching Maddy and rooting for her," said Pepe, whose original glove is on display at the Little League museum. "I cheered when I saw her turn that double play. It's still a thrill to see a girl reach the World Series. Someday soon I hope we'll see a girl playing in the championship game."
Girls were not allowed to play Little League Baseball until 1974, when the Little League Federal Charter was amended. In 1984, Victoria Roche, of Belgium, was the first girl to play in the Little League World Series. The first American girl to play in the LLWS was Victoria Brucker in 1989. In 2014, Davis was the first girl to win a game as a pitcher at the LLWS.
Nobody is rooting harder for Freking than her parents, Jessica and Richard, and her three siblings. Baseball is a family affair for the Frekings. Maddy's younger sister, Ella, 8, plays kid-pitch. Two brothers, Evan, 13, and Matthew, 6, also play Little League. All three of them are in Williamsport cheering Maddy on. The Frekings have a batting cage and a full baseball field in their backyard.
"We're kinda competitive," Jessica said. "Evan and Maddy have played on the same team, and they really push each other."
While games in the backyard can get "pretty wild," said Ella, her big sis helps her with pitching tips. "Maddy pitched to one batter in regionals," Ella said proudly. "And struck him out on three pitches!"
One of Freking's role models is Davis, who will play softball at Hampton next spring. The two will meet later this week when Davis, an aspiring broadcaster, comes to Williamsport to call a Little League game. Perhaps Freking can ask Davis for advice on handling celebrity?
"We told her if the attention gets to be too much to let us know," Bloom said. "But I've warned her to expect to get a lot of attention. This doesn't happen very often."
"Maddy from Minnesota" is a very big deal in Williamsport. The main gift shop at the Little League World Series complex had sold out of Midwest adjustable caps and adult jerseys by Saturday evening. "Minnesota merchandise is flying off the shelves," a salesperson said. "Little girls have come in here asking for them."
One of those girls, Kate Connors of Williamsport, was sporting a green Midwest T-shirt at Lamade Field before Minnesota's game on Sunday. She doesn't have any connection to the team. She simply asked her mom to buy the shirt because, "Maddy is my new hero."
Freking's own baseball hero isn't a current player, but rather Jackie Robinson. Like Robinson, she hopes to break barriers through baseball.
"How he was able to fight through everything, and people doubting him, that inspires me," she said. "For any little girls that are watching me, I'd tell them to keep playing their game and always do their best."