Girls’ team plans trip south to vie in national tournament
The Tonganoxie Braves will hit Oklahoma City again this season for a national tournament. This time, though, the 12-and-under softball team will be playing stiffer competition.
The American Fastpitch Association National Tournament in Oklahoma will be Monday through Aug. 4. Last year, the Braves competed in the lower B division. This year, Tonganoxie will compete in the higher A division.
Playing in the higher division, though, hasn't fazed the team. The Braves are 34-8 on the season. Of those games the team is 4-4 against older division teams. Braves coach Pat Albert wanted to play better teams and get more competition by playing those teams.
"The girls have played really well," Albert said. "They know how to play when it counts."
Members of the Braves team are Hannah Herrstrom, Sarah Flaherty, Ashlee Lohman, Sammi Rush, Tracie Hileman, Melissa Pratt, Amie Riddle, Amanda Albert, Holly Luke and Chrissie Jeannin.
Tonganoxie has won four tournaments this summer and finished second in another. During the Johnson County Summer Sizzler tournament June 13-16, the Braves were reunited with an opponent from nationals last season. A team from Skiatook, Okla., took first in the B class; Tonganoxie won the A division.
Pat Albert cited the team's defense as being its best asset. He also said the offense wasn't too shabby, either.
"It makes coaching easy," Albert said. "It's probably easier when it's not so hot out, but we can't control that."
Last season, Tonganoxie was 47-12 going into the national tournament in Oklahoma City. The tournament featured teams from Oklahoma, Colorado, California, Utah and Texas, and the Braves went 3-0 in their pool. But, Tonganoxie finished 1-2 in the double elimination tournament and was 17th out of 50 teams. Braves pitcher Amanda Albert is looking forward to a better ending this year.
"We played there last year, so that's an advantage," Amanda said. "We've been practicing really, really hard. That's just wiped us out."
The Braves will get the tournament started at 6 p.m. at Boomer Park in Oklahoma City. The field, which has Astroturf, also will be the site for opening ceremonies.
The Braves, along with the other 49 teams, exchange gifts with their first opponent in pool play during the ceremony. All 50 teams are also announced during the activity.
"It's a really neat environment," Pat Albert said.
Before the team embarks on a jaunt to the Sooner State, the Braves will compete in exhibition games Thursday against the Lawrence Phenix in Tonganoxie. Pat said it would be good to play an actual home game because the team never gets to play at its own venue.
The team will also be in Tonganoxie on Saturday, but not for games. Braves members will conduct a car wash at the First State Bank and Trust on U.S. Highway 24-40.
The city has restrictions on water use because of the recent rain shortage, but fellow Braves coach Craig Lohman doesn't live within the city limits. Lohman will bring 1,500 gallons from his rural property for the event, which will help raise funds the team has needed.
Last year's fund raising went well with candy bar sales, but that is down this year.
Pat Albert hopes the car wash will be successful, but come Monday, it will be Oklahoma City or bust. Once there, the team will probably do a small amount of sightseeing. Last year, the players visited the Murrah Federal Building and memorial. The trip came roughly a month before the Sept. 11 attacks last year.
"That was just really sad," Amanda said. "It gives you a new perspective."
Amanda hopes to possibly visit the memorial again, along with a trip to the Softball Hall of Fame.
The team will probably have to deal with the heat in Oklahoma City as it has in Kansas. But, Amanda said, it's been worth the sweat.
"Well, yeah, you're always tired after practice, but it's a lot of fun playing in the tournaments and just going out and playing," Amanda said. "It's just fun being out with my friends on the team."