In girls travel softball, highly competitive local teams are becoming a thing of the past.
The Richmond Rockets 16U travel team is bucking that trend with all of their players coming from a small radius. Along with Richmond-Burton, players also come from McHenry, Antioch, Lakes and Wilmot (Wis.) high schools.
The Rockets qualified for the No. 1 seeds bracket after going 4-0 in pool play at the Colorado Sparkler National College Exposure Tournament in Denver. In bracket play, the Rockets went 1-2 to finish 32nd out of 227 16U teams.
The Sparkler tournament is the largest college exposure tournament in the country with 900 teams in 14U, 16U and 18U divisions and 12,600 players.
Rockets coach Brian Hoskins said he was not expecting his team to get into the top bracket out of pool play, but the experience of playing against some of the top teams in the country was great for his team.
“It prepares us very well,” Hoskins said. “It makes our kids feel very good.”
After winning their first two games in pool play, the Rockets faced Originals-Belger from St. Louis, which won its first two games by a combined score of 32-1.
Hoskins said the Rockets’ 7-2 victory against Originals did not sit well with some of the opposing parents.
“We were pretty much thinking we’d be 3-1 and heading into a B bracket,” Hoskins said. “I could tell they were not happy.”
Hoskins said his team was not a powerhouse and relied on fundamental play and not making many errors.
“One thing we do right is we pitch well, play small ball and play good defense,” Hoskins said. “We don’t hit a lot of home runs, but we bunt really well and move the runner along.”
Of the 11 current players on the roster, eight have been with the team for four or five years. The team has had only two players leave the program. The Rockets added an 11th player this year after playing with 10 in the past.
During a particularly hot tournament last summer, the team was forced to play with only eight players after some heat-related injuries and ended up winning shorthanded.
The Rockets qualified for the ASA 16U A-level Nationals in North Platte, Neb., in August by winning a winter tournament in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. After winning five of the 12 tournaments they played in last year and finishing second in four more, the Rockets moved up to the A division.
At most tournaments, winning the pool play rewards teams by playing a lower seed in bracket play. Hoskins said the Sparkler throws all the No. 1 pool play seeds into the same bracket, so the competition is fierce.
“It was night and day. We played one really good team in pool play,” Hoskins said. “In most tournaments, if you’re the No. 1 seed, you play the fourth seed in the bracket. It’s powerful teams.”
Hoskins said his players get the opportunity to play in big national tournaments while still playing on a local team. With a year-round schedule, other than during the high school season, the Rockets are a close-knit group.
“They like doing things together,” Hoskins said. “We may not have the contacts the super clubs do, but we go to the places they’re going to. The only time they don’t get along is when [Richmond-Burton] plays McHenry.”
The Rockets lineup includes: Stephanie Pedley and Haylea Hoskins of Richmond-Burton; Cassie Arns, Beth Petrunich, Sara Wegner, Dana Walsh, Danielle Walsh and Ayla Cantu of McHenry; Taylor Kontaxis of Wilmot; Montana Mang of Lakes; and Amber Larson of Antioch. The assistant coaches are Larry Pedley and Jessica Mummer.
• Rob Smith is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com.