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National softball tournament comes to Hillsboro this week

Four local players, two of them from Banks, will take the field for the Northwest Blaze

Sometimes the end is not quite the end.

 - Recent Banks graduate Madison Soper makes a throw from her catcher position during a tournament game on Monday.

Late this spring, recent Banks graduates Madison Soper and Hannah VanDomelen, plus Liberty grads Paige Smotherman and Kelly Meeuwsen all wrapped up their respective high school careers with state playoff runs.

However, for each pair that didn’t quite mean the end of their time together as teammates. All four girls have combined forces and are playing for the Northwest Blaze 18 Gold this week — and on one of the largest stages for youth players in their sport, the ASA/USA 18 Gold National Championship.

These girls have played in big-time tournaments before, but one thing they hadn’t gotten to do was contest one in their own backyard. That all changed starting Monday, as this year’s national tournament is taking place right here in Washington County, with the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex in Hillsboro and the sports complex at Portland Community College-Rock Creek serving as the host sites.

Between games at Gordon Faber on Monday, Soper said getting to play at home is “awesome.”

“We don’t have to travel and we represent Oregon, basically,” the former Banks catcher explained.

Getting the chance to play at home was a focus for the team this year, Meeuwsen noted. The group has played in the Premier Girls Fastpitch national tournament in California the last couple years but the chance to play at home this year was too good to pass up. The Blaze qualified for ASA nationals at a regional tournament, which was also staged in Hillsboro.

“This one, since it was home, we wanted to come to this one,” said Meeuwsen, who is working her way back from shoulder surgery this past winter.

But getting to stay at home and sleep in their own beds has been a bit unusual for the Blaze girls. Usually, attending a national tournament means plane flights, hotel stays and spending all day together. This time around, Smotherman lives just a couple minutes away. In fact, the Gordon Faber complex is just across U.S. Highway 26 from Smotherman and Meeuwsen’s former home field at Liberty.

“A lot of people don’t think it’s that big of a hype because it’s in our backyard, and so we had to tell them, ‘Last year it was in Oklahoma. This is a big deal. This is a big tournament,’” Smotherman said.

Still, the unusual circumstances didn’t seem to be holding the Blaze back much, as they kicked off the tournament with a strong start in pool play on Monday, picking up a 4-2 win against All-American Mizuno 18 Gold Jackson in the morning before following up with a 4-3 win early that afternoon against Texas Fusion Gold.

The Blaze still had one more pool play game scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but the 2-0 start set a good tone for the tournament. Bracket play is slated to start today, with the Blaze scheduled to take on Texas Bombers Gold Elite at 8 a.m. on Field 1 at Rock Creek. A win would advance them to a 2 p.m. game today, while a loss would drop them into the losers’ bracket.

VanDomelen is playing with the Blaze as a guest player between her regular summer team commitments. On Monday, she pitched the final inning against All-American Mizuno, and she got to do it with longtime battery mate Soper catching her.

“It’s awesome,” VanDomelen said. “It’s like a last hurrah kind of thing.”

The experience is special for Meeuwsen and Smotherman as well. Like Soper and VanDomelen, the two former Falcons standouts have spent many hours together playing ball.

 - Recent Banks graduate Hannah VanDomelen delivers a pitch during a game at the ASA/USA 18 Gold National Championship on Monday.

Which makes this week meaningful. Not long from now, the four girls — all of them all-staters — will head off for college softball careers: Meeuwsen at Lamar University in Texas, Soper at Carroll College in Montana, Smotherman at Linfield College and VanDomelen at Mount Hood Community College. That means their time to play together is rapidly dwindling.

“I think we calculated (that) we’ve had like 224 practices together or something, and I don’t even know how many games — probably close to 250 games,” Smotherman said of herself and Meeuwsen. “So altogether we’ve had lots of hours together, and it’s a lot of fun, because we’re close off the field too. We’re best friends off the field.”


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