Florida trip worth ride for Braves
If rain could have gone away earlier this month at a national tournament in Florida, the Tonganoxie Braves softball team might have had better luck.
The United States Specialty Sports Association Elite Fastpitch Softball Tournament, held Aug. 5-9 at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex, was played during a five-day stretch despite rain each day of the tourney.
After going 1-1 in pool play, the Braves lost to the Sac Cyclones of Gloucester, N.J., by a 2-1 score in their first tournament game. The Braves then defeated the Orange Crush from Johnson City, Tenn., 7-1, setting up a meeting with the Churchville (Md.) Lightning in the losers' bracket of the double-elimination tournament. Churchville had a 3-1 lead heading into the seventh inning when rain started falling in Orlando. Instead of enforcing a rain delay, umpires continued the game. The Lightning proceeded to score six runs in the seventh and knocked Tonganoxie out of the tournament with a 9-1 setback.
In their first game of tournament play, the Braves and Cyclones had to battle each other in a "play-in" game because the tournament had nine teams competing.
"It's just the bad luck of the draw," Lohman said. Tonganoxie opened the tournament with a 3-2 victory against the Whites Wheels, a team from Charleston, W.Va. The Braves then met the Washington Senators, a squad from Washington, D.C. In another low-scoring game, the Braves were on the losing end of a 2-1 score. Tonganoxie held a 1-0 lead until the fifth when the Senators tied the game. After a rain delay, Washington won the game in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a lead-off triple.
In bracket play, the Braves suffered another heartbreaking loss to the Sac Cyclones. Tonganoxie opened the game with a Tracie Hileman single. Hileman later scored and Tonganoxie held a 1-0 lead once again.
Tonganoxie still had the slim lead heading into the seventh, but the Cyclones opened the inning with back-to-back doubles and tied the game. With one out and a runner on first thanks to a walk, the Braves committed an error and lost their second straight game in the bottom of the seventh.
The Braves did register a win in tournament play with the 7-1 victory against the Orange Crush. The teams were tied at one after the first inning, but Tonganoxie scored five runs in the fourth as Hileman, Hannah Herrstrom, Jesse Whitledge, Sami Rush and Roni Grizzle all scored. The team added another run in the sixth on its way to the win.
Tonganoxie finished the tournament at 2-3, but was one of the better defensive squads in the tournament. The Braves scored 12 and allowed 14. Only three teams allowed fewer runs in the tourney.
"The girls were pretty proud of what they got accomplished," Lohman said.
The 10-day trip, however, wasn't all about work.
Team members visited MGM Studios, the Magic Kingdom and the home of one of the Atlanta Braves' minor league affiliates, the Gulf Coast Braves, a team that plays baseball at the Disney sports complex.
The Tonganoxie Braves convinced the Gulf Coast Braves to take a picture with them. In addition, the Yankees' minor league affiliate was in town as well, so the softball players met them coming off their bus.
"They enjoyed that," Lohman said. "It was a positive experience."
But the players saved the best part of the trip for last. After competing in the tournament, the team headed to Daytona Beach -- and many of the players saw the ocean for the first time.
The team arrived at Daytona Beach the evening of Aug. 9 and headed straight to the ocean.
"They were out there horsin' around in the dark," Lohman said.
After spending Aug. 10 on the beach, it was time for a long bus ride back to Kansas.
"It was real quiet on the way home," Lohman said. "They were tired and they slept most of the way."
And even though the squad didn't come back from Florida with a trophy in the "A" division tournament, the team did finish the summer ranked seventh in the nation in power ratings for the 16-and-younger "B" USSSA division.
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