Six of county's top softball players head to California for national competition

Some of western Washington County’s top softball talent is testing itself against the country’s best this month.

About a half dozen players from the area are spending the latter part of July in Southern California playing in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship, which draws hundreds of teams from across the country. The 16U and 14U tournaments started late last week and are wrapping up Friday, while the 18U and 12U tournaments begin Saturday and continue through Aug. 2, in Huntington Beach, Calif., which is just southeast of Long Beach, and surrounding areas.

Glencoe stars Courtney Clayton and Macy Besuyen and Banks standout MaKenna Partain all play for the Northwest Bullets Gold, a team whose roster includes not only Oregon talent but also players from Washington and California. Besuyen and Partain both will be juniors in the fall, while Clayton departs for UTEP and a college softball career next month.

Most teams have to win qualifying tournaments to advance to PFG nationals, but the Bullets, who are playing in the top-level 18U Premier division, advanced automatically by virtue of previous finishes at the event, Clayton said.

“This tournament is super awesome,” said Clayton, who has participated in several previous editions of the double-elimination event. “It’s always my favorite tournament, not just because of where it’s at, but it’s all the best competition in the whole United States, and so it’s really highly competitive.

“It’s just such a privilege to get to play against all of those teams.”

The Bullets’ pool play games will begin Sunday and continue Monday, while bracket play will take place Tuesday through next Saturday, Aug. 2. That day’s 12U and 18U Premier championship games will be televised nationally on Comcast and Fox Sports West Prime Ticket.

Playing against top-flight talent from across the country helps the players develop their own game.

“Just playing the better teams, they always keep you at a high pace and a higher level,” Besuyen noted. “You just always have to be prepared and give 110 percent every pitch and come ready to play every game.”

Several other players from western Washington County made the trek to California as members of the Northwest Blaze, Partain and Besuyen’s former team. The Blaze has been playing in this week’s 16U Premier tournament. Liberty rising seniors Paige Smotherman and Kelly Meeuwsen play for the Blaze, as does Banks’ Madison Soper, who also will be a senior this fall.

The Blaze took part in the pool play stage last Saturday and Sunday before starting bracket play on Monday. The team got off to a strong start, beating the GA Vipers Palazzo 7-4 in its first round game before taking dropping a 7-4 decision to Firecrackers-Brashear on Tuesday afternoon. The team was schedule to play a losers bracket game against OC United at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Results were not available before press deadline.

Meeuwsen, Smotherman and Soper had all contributed through the Blaze’s first two bracket games. Meeuwsen hit a home run and provided two runs scored and four RBIs against the Vipers, helping the Blaze turn a 4-0 deficit after two innings into a win, and Smotherman contributed a walk and an RBI. Soper added a hit and a walk in that game as well as a double and an RBI in Tuesday’s loss.

These tournaments cap a busy spring and summer of softball for the Washington County group, but Clayton and Besuyen at least have still been managing to fit in some fun. Clayton headed down to California with her family a few days early to visit Disneyland in nearby Anaheim, while Besuyen enjoyed a trip to the beach earlier this week to celebrate her 17th birthday before road tripping south to the tournament with her family.

“I’m really excited. Usually it’s a great tournament and there’s always lots of teams there,” Besuyen said. “And I’m really excited because it’s going to be our last summer tournament, so I’m just really looking forward to it and finishing strong for the summer season.”

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