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Breeze takes it shot at Western Nationals

Aloha battles and learns at nationals in its first year at the 'A' level
by: MILES VANCE, ALMOST — Aloha Breeze shortstop Melissa Gipe just misses a running catch in the outfield during her team’s loss to the Concord Mavericks on Thursday in the ASA 14A Western National Tournament.

It wasn't always easy and it wasn't always pretty, but the Aloha Breeze found that its appearance in the 2006 ASA 14A Western National fastpitch tournament to be absolutely worthwhile.

The Breeze tested itself against four of the 86-team tournament's 52 California teams, winning its opener Aug. 1, then dropping three straight games, ending competition on Friday with a 6-0 loss to the Mize Diamond. The tournament ran from Aug. 1-5 with games played at Hillsboro Stadium, Sunset Park and Tualatin Hills.

'Over the year, we've played in a lot of tough tournaments, but when you compete against these California teams, they're just a step above us,' said Aloha manager Rob Combs, whose team is competing at the 'A' level for the first time this year.

The Breeze opened its tournament with a 6-5 win over the Cerritos Legends last week, getting a six-hitter from pitchers Kelsey Combs and Katelyn Bright, the twosome combining for one walk and two strikeouts in the process.

In addition, Ashley Casebeer went 2-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and one run scored, and two more runs came home when the Legends misplayed Kelsey Combs' grounder in the fifth inning.

The Salinas Storm brought Aloha back to earth in its second pool play game last Wednesday, however, knocking out the Breeze 15-0. In that game, Aloha managed just two hits, singles by Casebeer in the third inning and Bright in the fifth.

The trouble that started in game two continued in the first round of championship play against the Concord Mavericks last Thursday, with the Mavericks holding Aloha's offense in check throughout the game and ending the contest at 10-0 on the heels of a five-run sixth inning. The Breeze trailed just 1-0 after three innings, gave up two more in the fourth and single runs in the fifth and sixth before the Mavericks tacked on six hits in its five-run sixth.

Kelsey Combs allowed 11 hits in the loss, but many of those were soft bloopers into outfield gaps. She also struck out two and walked two before coming out of the game in the sixth inning.

I think we 'were a little intimidated with all the hoopla and all the 'California. California,' Rob Combs said. 'We won that first one against Cerritos, but I think we were a little intimidated.'

In its loss to the Mize Diamond, Kelsey Combs went 2-for-4 while Casebeer and Brittnie Gartner added their team's other two hits. Bright pitched her team into the fifth inning, allowing just three runs on four hits, three hit batters and one walk while striking out one.

Despite that, Rob Combs was thrilled with his team's learning curve in the tournament and hopeful that the hard lessons the Breeze gathered at nationals would benefit it in the future.

'They learned a lot. It was a great experience for them,' Combs said. 'I think they walk away with some confidence. All in all, it was a great tournament.'

Other Aloha team members include Kelsey Coussens, Jessica Ellington, Melissa Gipe, Amanda Lee, Tristin Simmons, Traci Thompson, Kelsey Unger, Hana Wilder and coaches John Gartner, Maggie Combs and Kevin Casebeer.

To see a complete photo gallery from this game, go to www.milesvance.exposuremanager.com, click on the 'Softball' link, then on the 'Aloha Breeze 8-3-06' link.