Three thousand miles seems like a long way to go to find out who is the toughest team in the neighborhood. But that's what it came down to in the Amateur Softball Association Girls 18-and-under Fast Pitch National Championship Tournament this weekend at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia.
In the end, the Raiders from Santa Monica, Calif., which, like its NFL namesake, tries to cultivate the toughest image, won its 10th national championship since 1976, defeating the Orange County (Calif.) Batbusters in the final, 4-1.
Most of the Raiders, in black uniforms with gold lettering, also sported red bandannas, some tied as sweatbands, others worn over the tops of their heads. To uninitiated Easterners, it may have looked like some kind of a fashion statement.
It meant something more sinister to Californians in the stands, though.
The Raiders, it seems, are not allowed to wear those bandannas when playing in Southern California because they can signify gang colors. But, on the road they may be interpreted as a symbol of defiance, a tool of intimidation. "They want to be seen as the Bad Girls," said the disapproving mother of one of the Batbusters.
In point of fact, seven of manager Phil Bruder's starters are headed to college on full athletic scholarships in the fall. This is a team of very good softball players, not gangsters. Despite the team's historical superiority though, the past two years they had finished second and fourth in the nationals.
"The reason this tournament is so sweet is we were written off at the beginning of the year," Bruder said. "I've got six or seven kids who've been with me three years who had never won the nationals. We've kind of proven the experts wrong."
The Batbusters showed plenty of moxie, too. They played three games Saturday, finishing with a 16-inning, four-hour marathon win over the Pirettes of Valencia, Calif., at 1:30 a.m. Then they went out at 10 a.m. yesterday and got crushed by the Raiders, 7-0, pushing them into the losers' bracket.
At 2 p.m. they played the Pirettes, winning 4-2 to gain the championship game 20 minutes later. With a 2-0 win they forced the 139th and final game of the 70-team tourney.
This time they came out flat, giving up two runs in the first inning on a walk, a double, and three errors. Between the second and third innings the PA system played Jackson Browne's "Running On Empty." Though the Batbusters rallied for a run in the third, the Raiders picked up two more in the fourth. The Batbusters were out of gas and the Raiders were pumped.
Of the Glen Burnie teams in the tournament, Jade Garden and Wagner's both finished at 2-2, Tangerine Machine at 0-2. The Lewistown Tigers, from the Frederick area, finished 1-2.