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Blaze steps up at 14A Western Nationals

The Beaverton/South-ridge Blaze nearly knocks off the eventual titleists
by: MILES VANCE, SO CLOSE – Hannah Johnson of the Beaverton/
Southridge Blaze can only grimace after her pop-up ended the Blaze’s 5-4 Friday loss to Nemesis Elite in the ASA 14A Western National Tournament.

The Beaverton/Southridge Blaze is out to make a name for itself, and the team took some great strides toward that goal at the 2006 ASA 14A Western National fastpitch tournament.

The Blaze, a first-year team featuring nine incoming freshman and four more who will be eighth-graders this fall, won four of seven games at the 86-team tournament, pushed eventual tournament champion Nemesis Elite to the limit and fell just one game short of reaching the National quarterfinals. The tournament ran Aug. 1-5 with games played at Hillsboro Stadium, Sunset Park and Tualatin Hills.

'I was very pleased to have a first-year team compete at this level,' said Blaze coach Chris Kelly. 'The team competed hard every game. We were right there.'

The Blaze opened pool play with 6-0 victory over The Next Level (from Cardiff, Calif.) on Aug. 1, then dropped a tough 1-0 decision to the San Diego Rowdies Aug. 2. Despite that setback, the Blaze seemed to hit its stride in championship play, beginning with an 8-0 shutout of the Washington Blaze last Thursday. In that game Kaitlin Inglesby fired a one-hitter at the other Blaze while teammate Hannah Johnson went 2-for-3 at the plate.

Next up, the Blaze edged past the Arizona Storm 4-3 later on Tursday, surviving a three-run Arizona first inning and coming from behind to win by a single run. Blaze lefthander Sloan Anderson rallied after her tough first inning and held the Storm scoreless the rest of the way.

Offensively, the Blaze got an RBI single from Brieanne Vanderpool in the second inning and a run-scoring double by Elizabeth Brenner in the third. Then, down a run in the bottom of the seventh, Inglesby singled, Brenner reached on an error and a dropped pop-up allowed pinch runner Alyssa Gillespie to come home and tie the game. Ashley Worthey then followed with a base hit between third base and shortstop to plate Brenner with the game-winner.

Beaverton/Southridge nearly did it again on Friday when it fell behind the Nemesis Elite (which beat the San Diego Power Surge to win the tournament title) 5-1, then rallied with three runs in the sixth inning before falling just short.

In that game, Nemesis scored twice in the first inning and three more times in the second to lead 5-1 and that's where the score stayed until the top of the sixth. There, Gillespie got things started with a slap single, Brenner drew a one-out walk and Ashley Garcia followed with an RBI single to left.

With runners at second and third and new pitcher aboard for Nemesis, Worthey singled to score two more runs and cut the gap to 5-4. But the Blaze comeback ended there. Jordan Kreiger popped up to second and Vanderpool to shortstop to end the threat.

Undeterred, the Blaze rallied past the Orange County Wildcats 3-2 on Saturday, this time starting fast themselves with three runs in the first inning and holding off a late Wildcat comeback. Orange County scored twice in the fourth to cut the gap to 3-2, then put the tying run on first base with one out in the bottom of the seventh.

But Vanderpoool came through with a key, running, over-the-shoulder catch for the second out, and Georgie Kelly made a catch in right to end the contest.

The San Diego Rowdies played thorn in the side again Saturday afternoon, however, ending the Blaze's tournament with a 4-3 victory.

Beaverton/Southridge scored first Saturday, getting early RBIs doubles from both Ashley Garcia and Brenner to lead 2-0. The Blaze then pushed ahead 3-0 on a Worthey double and a run-scoring push bunt from Vanderpool.

But it was not enough. The Rowdies got a two-run single in the fourth to go ahead and this time, the Blaze was unable to respond.

Despite that, Kelly was thrilled with his team's efforts at the National tournament.

'They are a talented group of players that have shown all year that they can compete and win (at) the National level,' Kelly said. 'Overall, it was a great tournament and I could not ask for a better group of players to coach. There was always someone there to step it up when we needed an out on defense or a hit on offense. It was a team effort.'

Other team members included Cayleigh Andress, Hannah Johnson, Jordan Kreiger, Britnee Niehus and Amy Sheridan.

To see a complete photo gallery from this game, go to www.milesvance.exposuremanager.com, click on the 'Softball' link, then on the 'Beaverton/Southridge Blaze 8-4-06' link.