Four county youth teams will try to ride a wave of momentum into this weekend's PONY East Zone softball tournament at Cedar Lane Park in Columbia. All four squads swept their classes in the prestigious Bob Hoffman Memorial tournament last weekend in York, Pa.
A pair of slow-pitch teams, the 14-under Terminators and the 10-under Mustangs, will defend their titles.
"They all have a real good shot of winning this tournament," said Steve Kunkel, manager of the Mustangs and softball commissioner of the Howard County Youth Program (HCYP). "Especially after winning last weekend. It shows the girls play a good caliber of softball. That's the first time in the 18-year history of the tournament that one organization has won four championships."
Forty-six teams from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York will compete.
Twenty-four fast-pitch and 22 slow-pitch teams will compete. One fast-pitch team from Anne Arundel County with four local players, the 16-under Harundale Angels, will also compete. All four county teams participating are slow-pitch squads.
"It's a privilege to host this tournament. A lot of teams that have played here before want to come back," said Kunkel, who has three daughters in the tournament. "With a youth program, it brings a lot of of families to Columbia. It will have a big economic impact."
The tournament, sponsored by HCYP, an organization of about 700 players is for age groups of 10-under to 16-under. It runs Saturday with games from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. On Sunday, games start at 8 a.m. and go through 4 p.m.
According to Kunkel, the key for any tournament is field conditions.
"If the field conditions are not kept up properly, then there are safety concerns," he said. "I have played on fields in the region where I don't want to go back."
But with Cedar Lane Park, teams play on some of the best maintained fields in the state.
"That's without a doubt," Kunkel said. "I have known for playing ++ out there for years that field maintenance is great. The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks has maintenance people at the facility."
If any of the four teams capture the tournament title, they qualify for the PONY nationals in Round Rock, Texas. But because of the high cost of that trip, the program will instead send three teams to the National Softball Association World Series in Rock Hill, S.C., July 22-26.
At the tournament, HCYP, which has about 700 players, will sell programs to raise $4,000 for the Rock Hill trip.
In recent years, HCYP has been host for two Amateur Softball Association Maryland State tournaments (1989-1990) and one ASA Central Atlantic Regional tournament (1991).
"There is a good possibility we could host two tournaments next year," Kunkel said.