For only the second time in Alameda’s history, a group of Island middle school-age girls qualified to play softball on the national stage.
This past week the Alameda Blaze age 12 and under (12U) softball team scored in the top 10 at the Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA) 12U “B” Western National Championship in Fresno.
Hundreds of teams in the Western United States vied to compete in the multi-day championship but only 41 were ultimately chosen. That the Alameda Blaze 12U team managed to take ninth place in the contest was all the more significant because it is a first-year team, with many of its girls a full year younger than their competition.
The 12U Blaze only formed on May 7 and participated in five regional tournaments. In their Nationals qualifying tournament (the Oakland ASA Metro held in Hayward June 25 and 26), the .
Going into the National series their coach, Sharon Perkins, said she felt that the team had a chance of winning a couple of games. But, by battling through each game, they managed to advance two games further than anyone anticipated, never giving up, she said.
Perkins said this team played with more heart than any other she had coached. She remembers a particular game rally in which all nine players batted during one inning.
“They were dirty, hot and exhausted, but they didn’t hesitate to take it to the very end and leave everything out on the field,” she said. They eventually lost the game by one point, but the coach said the score didn’t even matter at that point because they were already ranked ninth and managed to get further than anyone at the tournament or in Alameda would have expected.
While most recreational leagues have over 100 players from which to form a single tournament team, Alameda had only 28. Although these girls were considered the “best of the best” on the Island, their coach said they needed to work extremely hard to match the talent of other local teams with far more players.
Coach Perkins said Alameda Girls Softball is growing. This year they were able to field a 12U B team, a 10U B team, a 10U C team and even had an 8U All Star team play in a tournament. The league also has a 14A team playing. She said to jump from having two teams on average to five is a huge leap for softball in Alameda.
“Hopefully what the girls accomplished,” said the coach, “will help younger players realize if they play hard and love the sport they can eventually make it on to Blaze teams themselves and have these awesome experiences.”
She noted that the more skilled players in Alameda who want to play at the tournament level, the more chances there are to field both B and C level teams. “Every good team we played out there has at least a B and C team for each age level in their organization, if not more,” said the coach.
This fall the first generation of Alameda Blaze players will be moving on to play softball at the college level. Three former Blaze players from the first 12U team, which went to Western Nationals in 2007, are now on the 16U “A” team Castro Valley Synergy, which in Kent, WA.
In addition to the City of Alameda Recreation and Parks Department, which provides its fields for play, the is supported by team sponsors, coaches and volunteers who hold fundraisers to keep it operating.
The 12U Blaze team members include Victoria Avery, Alexis Esparza, Tatianna Kelly, Cassie Lumpkin, Sarah Mahler, Aliza Newman, Margaret Pendo, Bella Sheel, Ruby Siltanen, Meida Tautalatasi, Maura Willow and Lily Wilmot.