Madison Soper and MaKenna Partain get a chance to shine with the Northwest Blaze

Summer means serious business for competitive softball players, and this year, the Northwest Blaze 16U team has been getting down to it.

Though the Blaze is based in Beaverton, the squad boasts a top-notch roster of players from throughout the Portland metropolitan area. Four of them hail from western Washington County and all have been playing roles in the team’s success, which includes a stint at a national tournament this week in California.

Earlier this year, Banks’ MaKenna Partain and Madison Soper helped the Lady Braves to their second consecutive Class 4A state softball championship. Macy Besuyen played a pivotal role in Glencoe’s run to the Class 6A state title game, and Kelly Meeuwsen helped Liberty reach the Class 5A quarterfinals for the fourth year in a row.

All four are in Huntington Beach this week for the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship tournament, which kicked off on Sunday at continues through Friday.

The Blaze opened the event by going 1-2 in pool play on Sunday and Monday. After a 2-0 defeat to Team Indiana 16U on Sunday, they rebounded with a 4-2 victory against Minnesota Renegades 97. On Monday, they dropped an 8-2 decision to Team Mizuno Impulse, a squad out of Texas.

The real deal got going on Tuesday, though, when bracket play began in the 64-team double-elimination tournament (results were not available at press time).

“When the tournament starts, it’s a different atmosphere,” Blaze coach Chris Kelly said. “The games have a lot more pressure, and the girls like the pressure. They want to perform in the bracket. They like bracket play.”

Pool play does not influence the bracket draw, but rather was more for college coaches to have set times to watch teams, Kelly said. His team kicked off bracket play Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. against the KG Hitters, a team from Northern California. The winner of that contest played again at 7:15, while the loser faces an elimination game at 10:15 a.m. today.

“I was told by a college coach that they were 34-0, the last 34 games they had won,” Kelly said about the Hitters. “And they tied one of their pool play games yesterday.”

Through the three pool play games, Soper was batting second on the team in terms of average by going 2-for-5 with two runs scored, two RBIs — including a home run — and a walk. She plays catcher for the Blaze.

“Madison has been hitting really well,” Kelly noted.

Meeuwsen, a middle infielder and the Northwest Oregon Conference Player of the Year this spring, went 2-for-8 in three games with two runs and two RBIs. Besuyen played second base this year for the Crimson Tide but is roaming center field for the Blaze. The Blaze’s leadoff hitter, she batted 1-for-6 through three games with a run and two walks.

Partain, the Lady Braves’ sensational freshman and Class 4A State Player of the Year, handles pitching and third base duties for her summer squad. She went 1-for-7 through Monday with an RBI and a walk. She also threw a combined 5 1/3 innings in two starts on the mound, yielding 11 hits and nine runs while walking three and striking out two. She and Meeuwsen bat in the third and fourth spots in the lineup, Kelly said.

The PGF tournament is one of two national competitions for which the Blaze qualified this summer. They advanced to Huntington Beach from a regional qualifier in Clackamas earlier this month. They also qualified for the ASA 16U National Championships that begin on Sunday in Sunnyvale, Calif., but opted not to attend that tournament.

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