Braves sweep nationals
By Ryan Greene
Journal-World Sports Writer
It was Hall of Fame second baseman Ernie Banks who coined the phrase, "Lets play two."
For the 14-under Tonganoxie Braves, the double-elimination tournament format allowed them to do just that. And with its second win, Tonganoxie claimed a championship Sunday in the American Fastpitch Assn. "B" Girls National Tournament at the Clinton Lake Softball Complex.
The Braves, one of eight teams in the 14-under division, and went 4-1 Sunday en route to their first National title. The team finished the season with a 48-14 overall record.
"I'm proud of these girls," coach Pat Albert said. "These girls have worked their butts off, and worked hard all year long. Some of them have been working for five years to get to this point. It's the pride in them that really makes the difference."
Albert started coaching the girls when they were 10 years old. Seven of the original starters still play on the team.
"We've had some come and go over the years," he said.
The Braves started their week with a 2-1 record in pool play, and then on Wednesday, went 2-0 in the first day of the double elimination tournament. Placing themselves in the winners bracket proved valuable, as the losers bracket was eliminated from the tournament after rain cancelled all of Saturday's games.
After a two-day break from play because of the inclement weather, the Braves cruised through their first three contests Sunday. Tonganoxie defeated the Kansas City Wild Things, Sioux Falls (S.D.) Flash and the Tufco (Gentry, Ark.) Heartbreakers by a combined score of 19-9 to reach the championship game.
The Braves were rematched with the Heartbreakers in the title game, and suffered their first defeat of the day, 5-3, forcing a winner-take-all "if necessary" game.
"It wasn't over," Albert said. "We had a little room to give, and we just had to continue to play our game and we'd eventually get there."
In the third and final meeting, no Tonganoxie player showed more toughness than pitcher Chelsey Raines. Raines was drilled in her right hand by a line drive while pitching in the first meeting with the Heartbreakers and was forced out of the game.
She saw limited pinch-hitting action in the first championship game, but made a gutsy return as the starting pitcher in the final game. She was nothing short of amazing, throwing a complete-game, four-hit shutout as the Braves triumphed, 4-0.
"It just felt like I went to hell," Raines said of her injury. "After the first (championship) game, we were all just mad. The second game was awesome."
The second game was scoreless when Tonganoxie batted in the top of the fifth inning. After Amanda Darrow and Hannah Herrstrom reached base with one out, Tracie Hileman drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single. Then came the biggest blow as Melissa Pratt, facing a full count, smoked a two-run double down the left-field line.
The scoring was capped when Roxie Grizzle followed Pratt's double with an RBI triple, giving Raines all the run support she needed.
"I think I had a mini-heart attack," Pratt said. "There was a lot of pressure. I was proud."