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The 2015 Premier Girls Fastpitch (PGF) Nationals wrap up a long summer that has seen me attend the National Championships at all three of the major governing bodies: Triple Crown (TC/USA Nationals in Reno and Tahoe, Nev.), the USA Softball JO Cup (Chino Hills) and the PGF Nationals in Irvine, Calif.
The PGF 18U/12U/ and 10U took place a week ago Friday and Saturday’s 16U and 14U Premier games were two of the best games of the year and put a great exclamation point on the 2015 summer club season!
Here are my thoughts—not always about the action on the field—as I sat in the front row of Deanna Manning Stadium in Bill Barber Park and took written notes as well as shot photos and videos.
In this blog, I outline the thrilling 16U battle between two non-California teams: The Tampa Mustangs (Fla.) and Beverly Bandits DeMarini (Ohio).
This game featured two teams that did the “impossible:” each lost its first game—in the case of the Mustangs it was a play-in game!—and then went on to win each and every game in the Loser’s Bracket to make it to the championship.
That meant 12 consecutive wins for the Floridians… an amazing accomplishment no matter how you look at it.
Below are my thoughts of the game that started at 2 pm PST. You can watch the complete TV broadcast by clicking here.
*** There are so many compelling storylines to this game it’s sick.
For one, the Bandits DeMarini team lost its first game of bracket play to another Bandit squad, Jen Tyrrell’s team, which won the 16U championship two years ago behind Miranda Elish. But Chad Moran’s team got the payback by winning 5-4 on Friday over Bandits-Tyrrell.
The Mustangs not only recovered after it’s play-in loss, the pitching shut teams down. In eight of the team’s last 10 games, the pitching allowed one or no runs, which was needed as the offense only scored one run in three of the last four games (including the final).
Also, Mustangs TJ Goelz made a promise a few years ago that if his team ever won a National Championship, he’d take them on a cruise… that’s right a team cruise! He had twice finished second at ASA Nationals and he certainly was hoping that the third time was the time here.
Another fun fact about the Mustangs: unlike many elite teams at this level which have players come from all over, including out of state, the Mustangs have nine players who play at three local schools. Pitchers Cassidy Davis (2016, Mercer) and Claire Feldman (2016, Palm Beach Atlantic) even attend the same high school: Newsome High in Lithia, Fla.
Both helped their high school win the Class 8A championship in May of this year and Feldman was going for a trifecta day as she won an ASA “A” National Championship in June. Capping the summer off with a PGF National Championship would be quite the amazing accomplishment.
*** I’m impressed that, even though there’s not a local following for either team since both are from east of the Mississippi, both still have pretty vocal followings.
*** The Mustangs are up first and facing Michigan-bound 2017 lefty pitcher Meghan Beaubien go down 1-2-3. Yea, that’s happened a lot this week…
When the Mustangs are on defense in the bottom of the first, Cassidy Davis is in the circle and she looks sharp, both in her pitching and in her appearance. Cassidy has a herky-jerky wind-up that has to be disconcerting to batters and she looks cool as a cucumber wearing black sunglasses.
She starts the game off with two Ks and induces a weak grounder to first.
This has the feeling of a classic pitcher’s duel…
*** Beaubien has one of the best change-ups I’ve seen all summer—maybe the best—and she gets a couple Mustang batters buckling at the knees. The Michigan commit gets a called third strike and I overhear a Mustang parent saying, “I heard she has been doing that all week.”
*** In the bottom of the second, things start to get interesting. Davis is using speed and location to keep batters off-balance where Beaubien is masterfully mixing up her pitchers and both are effective so far.
Davis is in a rhythm and works quickly but has gone deep in the count a few times and on a 3-2 count to Hannah File walks her. Shannon McGee pokes a single to left and after Ally Ivey is hit by a pitch, the bases are loaded and we have our first pivotal point in the game.
But the Mustang pitcher gets a strikeout—her fourth in two innings—and a flyout and escapes the jam. I wonder how big this missed opportunity for the Bandits will turn out to be…
*** Top three and Beaubien is also in a rhythm. She’s not a power-pitcher who’ll blow the ball by everybody but is more of a “keep you off-balance” pitcher and gets all three Mustang batters to ground out to shortstop Sara Jubas.
On a personal note, by this point the sun is really starting to burn and, even though I put on sunblock earlier in the day, I put more on my face and neck but I get the feeling some damage is already done. Hope I’m not too salmon pink by the end of the day…
*** Coach Goelz has long sung the praises of 1B Bethaney Keen, a South Florida commit, and I’ve been impressed with her offense, defense and leadership all week.
A catalyst for the great run in the Loser’s Bracket, Keen makes a great defense play in the bottom of the 3rd inning when a ball is rocketed down the first base line and the Mustang infielder spears it out of the air to prevent a likely double. The inning ends without any damage being done.
*** Kudos to whoever is picking the in-stadium music between innings. The energetic horns of “Sir Duke” sung by Stevie Wonder blare over the speakers and the fourth inning is ready to begin…
It’s still scoreless and this one has the feel of a game that will go down to the last pitch. Both teams are playing clean, error-free ball and you know one play is going to make or break someone’s season.
*** Keen comes up and is almost the offensive hero too as she hits a deep fly ball to right but it’s caught. In the stands there’s very little breeze—at least right by the field—but you can see flags are swirling and it looks like no balls will be aided over the fence today.
We’re in the top of the 4th and the Mustangs have yet to get a hit and the Bandits only have one. Beaubien continues to shine and I’m thinking that her No. 22 ranking in the 2017 Hot 100 is way. too. low.
*** We enter the bottom of the 4th and, though the game is moving very rapidly, the TV commercials are slowing it down. I’m not complaining because the great music continues as “Heard It Through the Grapevine” gets extended play.
When action does resume, Davis answers Beaubien’s great pitching with her own and gets some groundouts to move into the 5th. Interesting that the first time through the order she was getting K’s; now she’s getting more groundouts and involving her defense more.
*** Top 5: Davis gives the Mustang fans a bit of a jolt when a ball is hit deep to left but is pulled in by File in left. However, the next batter Hannah Pridemore breaks the perfect game by Beaubien with a line drive single to left.
Coach Goelz raises a few eyebrows when he sacrifice bunts the runner to second making it two outs. Beaubien reaches back with her best change-up of the game with a full count on Kaylee Misiti who can’t do anything but watch it float in for a called third strike and the inning is over.
Like the missed opportunity in the 2nd inning for the Bandits, you wonder if the runner left at second base will come back to haunt the Mustangs.
*** In the Bandits bottom half of the 5th, Kendyl Wheeler just misses placing the ball inside the left foul line—it must be foul by no more than a foot and Davis gets her fifth K to close out the inning.
The scoreboard is identical for both teams: no runs, one hit, no errors. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles sing “My Girl” and it’s a nice, brief diversion from what’s to come…
*** It’s suddenly the sixth inning and the tension swells in the stadium as the close of a championship season is coming quickly for one team while another will finish second but so, so tantalizingly near to winning it all.
The Mustangs catch a huge break when Denali Schappacher leads off with a bunt that trickles a foot in front of home plate and rests on the third baseline chalk. Just sits there.
She then steals second base and advances to third on a two-out ground and you think that Beaubien is going to escape another tense situation…
… but the Mustangs catch another big break when Kinsey Goelz—daughter of head coach TJ Goelz—bounces a ball over third baseman Megan McMenemy and just like that the scoreless drought is over.
Two key hits, one run and it’s up to the Bandits to answer back. This is like a great boxing match and the first stunning blow has been thrown; now how will the Bandits respond?
*** Bottom 6th and time is running out. McMenemy—always a dangerous hitter—works the count full before flying out to left. The next two batters also fly out to the outfield and Davis once again is masterful at getting the opposition to hit her pitches and use her defense to get outs.
*** The top of the 7th is almost an afterthought—although the Mustangs would love to get insurance runs, everyone is waiting for the final round of the match to see who will win: the fantastic pitching of the Mustangs or the find-a-way-to-win offense of the Bandits.
It’s do or die time (insert your own cliché here)…
*** Bottom of the 7th and the first batter, Ashton Slone, lines a shot to left field for a single. The crowd in orange and black goes crazy and the Mustangs’ head coach is practically out of the dugout before the ball is returned to the infield.
Davis is done but what an effort: two hits allowed in six full innings, but the tying run would be on her.
Coach Goelz brings in Claire Feldman to quell any rally, but it looks like the move may backfire when a pinch runner is advanced to second on a sac bunt and Shannon McGee drops a double into centerfield that puts runners on second and third with one out.
This is one of those moments where you wish you could just freeze the play and just savor the crossroads of the outcome:
The Mustangs are only two outs from winning its first national title. Two outs.
But the Bandits have the tying run just 60 feet away and the winning run for a title standing on second.
It’s all come to this and what a great moment to end the club season on!
Feldman, who had 11 Ks only a day before in a crucial win over the Bolts to help the Mustangs get this point, gets a strikeout swinging for out No. 2 and the nervousness in the stands is manifest by the volume of the cheering/screaming.
It’s down to one batter and after a strike and ball, Ally Ivey flies out to left and it’s over.
One of the best games of the year, a 1-0 win by the Mustangs, is over after they lose the opening game and then reel off 12 wins in a row. Twelve in a row.
*** I catch up with Coach Goelz after the game and he says he and his partner in a financial firm will foot the bill for what looks to be a three day cruise for the team to the Bahamas. He says with a laugh, “We’ll find a way to pay for it.”
I ask if he needs any media, present company included, to document the event.
*** Bandits coach Chad Moran is a classy guy and Meghan Beaubien has been fantastic every time I’ve seen her pitch. The Bandits organization run by Bill Conroy is loaded with great young pitchers including Lauren Rice (2017, Missouri), Montana Fouts (2018, Alabama) and our blogger extraordinaire Sydney Supple (2019, Northwestern), among others.
The Bandits will be back, you can count on that.
*** But today is the Mustangs moment to shine. A Florida team that few expected to go far, especially after the first day of play, gels and run-rules several teams while the pitching coalesces.
You don’t see any SEC or other “power conferences” in the list of commits on the Mustangs-Goelz team—you do see a lot of Sunshine State schools like Central Florida, South Florida and Jacksonville—but the strength of this team isn’t based on what colleges they’re going to, it’s on how they played together.
My lasting memory of this Mustangs’ team won’t be from Saturday’s action but from Friday after the IF game win when it beat the powerful Birmingham Thunderbolts. Coach Goelz had his team gathered around him and his coaching staff down the right field line of Field 4 at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex.
As he began to address his team, he got choked up and emotional. The players responded with understanding “ahhs” and you felt the love in that group who, the coach would admit, lost three players during the summer on the journey to the finish line.
It wasn’t easy but they did it. I walked away because that was a private moment and one special to those involved.
But what they did will be discussed for decades to come as one of the greatest accomplishments in club softball history.
I was just glad I got to be there to witness it in person.
PGF 16U CHAMPIONSHIP ROSTERS
BEVERLY BANDITS DEMARNI
- 2B Rachel Lewis
- 3B Megan McMenemy
- SS Sara Jubas
- 1B Ashton Slone
- LF Hannah File
- CF Shannon McGee
- DP Mallory Marsicek
- C Allyson Ivey
- RF Kendyl Wheeler
- P Meghan Beaubien
- Gabbi Schnaiter
- Claire Nicholson
- Francisco Torraca
- H. Dominque
- 1B Bethany Keen
- SS Kinsey Goelz
- 2B Myah May
- P Cassidy Davis
- DP Hannah Pridemore
- LF Brooke Leistl
- 3B Kaylee Misiti
- RF Denali Schappacher
- CF Kyra Klarkowski
- C Maddie Biggs
- Logan Newton
- Kylie Toler
- Avery Goelz
- Claire Feldman