MARIETTA, GA. — The dreams of a national championship for the Westminster Rockets crumbled quickly in the first two rounds of the Amateur Softball Association Girls 18-and-under National Slow-pitch Championship at Al Bishop Softball Complex here over the weekend.
The Rockets faced the Blue Angels of Chattanooga, Tenn., on Thursday, the first day of the four-day, 58-team event.
A case of first-game jitters did not help the Rockets as they committed several errors against the hard-hitting Blue Angels squad. TheTennessee team dropped the Westminster squad into the losers' bracket, 21-6.
On Friday, Westminster was paired with the VFW team from East Grand Forks, N.D. This time the Rockets' defense was ready, but the offense had a difficult time getting untracked, and VFW took a 5-4 decision to knock Westminster from the event.
Westminster Coach Bill Hughes offered no excuses.
"This is our first time in the 18-and-under competition, but most of the girls have played in a couple of 16-and-under national tournaments," he said. "Today, the pitching got to us. We play in (the Carroll County) women's league at home, and today there was very little arc on the pitches. The girls were usedto seeing 6- to 12-foot arcs on the ball.
"They started reaching for the ball early in the game. Some adjusted to the pitching and some others did not. Nerves got to us in our opening game."
The Rockets draw their players from an area of about 14,000 people or less. There is no 18-and-under slow-pitch youth league in the Westminster area, so the team played in the Carroll County Women's League.
Although most of the players have national tournament experience, the Rockets are a young team. Seven of the players are heading into their senior year of high school, two more will be juniors, two sophomores and two will be freshmen in September.
Hughes brought only 13 players to the tournament.
"We never carried more than 14 players," he said. "A couple of my regulars went to Europe for a couple of weeks, andtwo others were hurt, but they still played. We brought up a couple of players (from the Westminster Jaycees league) to help us."
But Westminster did not return home without a victory. After their secondloss in the championship tournament, the Rockets entered the consolation tournament with just nine players. Four team members and their families opted to go home after the loss to East Grand Forks.
In the opening round of the consolation event, the short-handed Westminster team banged out a 16-15 victory over the Ocala Stars from Florida before losing to the Lasers from Nampa, Idaho.
"Most of the girls played up to their potential," Hughes said. "Julie Backof, our right fielder, and Gina Hughes at third base are both sophomores, and they played very well, as did our first baseman, Steff Owings. Next year wemay be back and come closer to the title."
It was the fourth national championship tournament for Owings, who had played with the Rockets in one 14-and-under and two 16-and-under national events before last weekend's competition.
About 25 parents and siblings traveled to the tournament as a rooting section for the Westminster softball squad. For most, it was a tournament trip and a vacation.
Rich Magrudor, whose daughter Shalisse, an incoming freshman, was one of the youngest on the team, was intent on seeing the sights.
"I promised myself that if I ever got to Atlanta (Marietta is less than 20 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta) that I was going to see Six Flags overGeorgia and Stone Mountain," the parent said. "And that is just whatwe are going to do."
Joe Burlas is a free-lance writer who covered the tournament for the Marietta Daily Journal newspaper.