ASA National Champions
Indy Crush Fulfills Premonition For 18U ASA National Championship
By Dave Utnik
Normal, IL --- Sarah Cretin knew it all along. She had something close to a premonition back in the fall of 2010. The players from Indy Crush were huddled together during one of their first days together when the precocious catcher suddenly announced: "We are never going to lose."
She wasn't bragging. Cretin sincerely believed that. And, it turns out she knew what she was talking about.
Indy Crush has lost a few times. But when it mattered most, this summer at the ASA Girls 18U National Championships, Cretin and her teammates won them all.
"We didn’t know she was referring to the ASA National Championship Tournament," Indy Crush coach Lorenzo Walker said. "We always thought we were good and even during our very last practice in Indy before nationals I saw an unusual calmness with our team.
Most of the time at a season's last practice players are either sad that it is over or happy to be finishing the year and ready to move on. Our last practice was like one of the mid-summer practices, and it was the first time we had our full team at practice.
None of the teams we played during the summer played against our team that competed for the ASA National Championship."
It's likely that none of them would have wanted too. Indy Crush is that good when all the parts are properly assembled. Cretin understands that better than anyone. She saw it on the first day.
In July, Walker had a sense, too.
"I told many people leading up to the week of nationals that I felt this would be a special week, but my realistic goal was to finish in the top 10," he said.
Special was just one way to describe it. Indy Crush came from behind to win four times and the final four victories were each by one run.
"The week was jam-packed with drama," Walker said. "But we did not start talking championship until Saturday night."
There could be a few more championships in Indy Crush's future, though the 2012 squad will have a decidedly different look. Eight players have moved on to college, which makes winning an ASA title that much more meaningful.
"It is a huge accomplishment," Walker said. "I think it puts our program firmly on the map."
The 18U Indy Crush was a perfect mesh of talent and personalities -- a chemistry that has established a foundation for future success.
Taylor Lockwood, Jessica Cates and Nikki Thomas shared the pitching circle in spectacular fashion, while the team was led in hitting by first baseman Shelby Turner (.444), Katie McCool (.417), outfielder Casey Williamson (.414) and Carly Atkinson (.414).
But they will be remembered for much more than stats.
"We have always been very competitive and usually one of the top two or three teams of local tournaments that we participate in," Walker said. "Now the expectations have increased, and players returning to our club will have to really step up.
With most of the history-makers headed in different directions, I have decided to move to the 16U division where I have a very talented group of young ladies who will try and build on the foundation that Indy Crush 18U laid and continue to be successful in the world of fastpitch softball.
The Next Level Captures ASA Girls Class A 16-Under National Championship
Chattanooga, TN --- The no-hitter was a precursor of things to come. When Notre Dame recruit Rachel Nasland struck out 12 batters in a dominating performance against the Renegades it was clear that The Next Level had come to Frost Stadium well prepared to win an ASA Girls Class A 16-Under National Championship.
"Qualifying for nationals is something that every travel softball team strives for. Some qualify and others may never get the opportunity," coach Jerry Delamater said. "Our organization has been very successful in sending numerous teams in each division to nationals every year."
The Next Level truly lived up to its nickname during nationals. Even before then, there were obvious signs of the team's potential. They won the Southern California State Championship and placed ninth in the 18U division at the prestigious Independence Day Tournament in Boulder, Colorado.
So when they out-played a 172-team field to capture the ASA National Championship it wasn't a complete surprise.
"It doesn’t get much better than that," said Delamater, whose team went 9-1 in championship round play. "It proves that the teams in our program can compete with the best of the best out there."
The Southern California-based squad proved that by defeating Georgia Impact 5-3 and 3-0 to win the championship.
"After we did well in Boulder, Colorado at the Independence Day Tournament among the older age group we knew that we could win nationals if we played well," Delamater said. "We will continue to get stronger as all of our players returned this fall. We should be contenders next summer as well."
The future is indeed bright considering that virtually all of the team's biggest stars have already received college scholarships. Top-of-the-order hitters Monica Downey is headed to San Diego State, while Samantha Camello will play at Texas Tech. Power-hitting pitcher Noelle Johnson is committed to Utah State and catcher Molly Hutchinson at N.C. State.
"It's very strong and balanced lineup," Delamater said.
And they know each other well, having played together for two years now.
By the time Nasland hurled her bracket play no-no, The Next Level was clearly on its way to achieving greatness. Johnson led the team with a .457 batting average, going 16 for 35, while Hutchison and Hailey Kofler each hit a pair of homers. Camello hit a two-out double in the bottom of the seventh to defeat Southern Force, 5-4, and The Next Level received big hits throughout the tournament from Celinna Cosio, Hana Gilbert and Madison Lerma.
Naslund, a junior at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, earned the win in the finale, too, tossing a three-hitter with 10 strikeouts -- a performance that was backed by a diving, back-handed catch by outfielder Lani Vanta in the seventh inning.
"This group of players has a great chemistry on the field. They support and encourage one another through every game," Delamater said. "They are friends on and off the field. Every one of them contributed to the success of our season.
"There is a lot of movement in travel softball but not much to speak of on this team for next year. Our goal is to win 18 Gold Nationals next year."
14U Laser Gold Brings Ohio First Ever ASA Nationals Championship
By Dave Utnik
Midland, TX.--- The players hail from virtually every corner of the state. They travel for hours just to practice.
Wearing a Lasers Gold uniform is something of an honor in Ohio. And that was true long before the 14U squad captured the 2011 ASA Girls Class A National Championship.
Now it's the epitome of cool.
For several years now, Lasers Gold has been an organization on the rise in fastpitch softball. It all began with a Pony National Championship in 2007 and just kept building until all the promise and potential came together during one remarkable week in Texas in early August.
That's when the year-round commitment the girls made to one another truly paid off and Lasers Gold became the first team from Ohio to win an ASA national title in any age division.
"We entered the week wanting to make history. We were a team that played together as one to the highest degree," coach Steve Gambone said.
Lasers Gold doesn't enter a tournament with designs on anything except winning a first-place trophy. Often they'll play up an age division or two just for the sake of the challenge.
But the plan is to always win and they have become quite good at it. The Lasers' 16U team had quite a summer, too -- placing fifth at ASA Nationals in Tennessee.
Nothing, however, has ever compared to what the 14U squad accomplished when it battled out of the losers' bracket to defeat the Tennessee Fury, 3-0 and 10-4 in the ASA finals.
"The best finish for our organization until this year was ninth place two different times," Gambone said.
All that changed when Kristen Adkins pitched a two-hit shutout against the previously undefeated Fury and then the Lasers scored seven runs in a sixth-inning rally to win the finale.
"Some big time college coaches told me we had the best pitching, defense and hitting at the tournament," Gambone said.
The heart of the order has been together for six years now and it shows. Kori Caughenbaugh led the Lasers with a .500 batting average during the week. Adkins, who hit a pair of homers, finished with a .458 average.
Caitlin Gambone, who bats second, had a .435 average and Kennedy Beach batted. 432. Clean-up hitter Taylor Kirian hit .400 and there were some very memorable at-bats throughout the week, including a grand slam by pitcher Shelby McCombs on Sunday and a two-run homer by Emily Clark against the Fury.
"Our lineup has always gotten it done offensively," Gambone said. "We can get it done a variety of different ways offensively."
Rallies traditionally start with Sidney Melton, who can slap, bunt and hit for power out of the leadoff spot. At one time or another, the Lasers also receiving clutch hits from Kelly Dillow, Jordan Kennaw and Maranda Stansbery, who made her travel ball debut this summer.
"It's every girl's dream that plays fastpitch softball to win ASA Nationals" Gambone said. "My 11 girls are very honored to be the first in our organization to do it."
Firecrackers Light up ASA Girls 12U National Championship
Montgomery, AL --- Arissa Paulson kept putting the ball where nobody could hit it. Low and away was her target and the Firecrackers' ace never missed in leading her team to the ASA Girls Class A 12U National Championship.
Paulson tossed back-to-back 4-0 shutouts against Victory USA at Lagoon Park. Opponents kept swinging -- and mostly missing.
After moving from Ohio to join the Firecrackers 12U team from Chino Hills, CA., Paulson was nearly perfect in the pitcher's circle. She followed a nine-inning shutout performance by throwing a no-hitter in the championship game.
The Firecrackers were already a pretty good team before Paulson arrived. But this was unquestionably their best summer ever. They went 67-2-2 overall, including a 9-0 record at nationals, where they scored 45 runs and allowed only one in wins over Texas Peppers, TPS, Georgia Impact, Team Rawlings, Homer Hawks, Tri County Smash and Victory USA.
Paulson allowed one base runner in the finals -- on an error. Nobody else came close to reaching. The final seven batters went down in order.
That in itself was a rare feat against a Victory USA team that is accustomed to contending for championships. The 2011 finale marked the program's third straight top-five national finish. The 10U squad won a championship in 2009 and the 12U squad was fifth in 2010.
The Firecrackers weren't intimidated by that tradition.
They rallied for four runs in the ninth inning to beat Victory USA in the final Saturday game of the weekend and then returned to the field for the title game on Sunday with Paulson back in the circle.
She was their biggest advantage, though Yvonne Siordia shared the spotlight with a tremendous game at the plate. She went 3-for-3 with a sacrifice fly and wound up knocking in three runs.
That was far more than Paulson needed to secure the national championship.