Blast Turns Heads at Softball World Series

August 15, 2014

by Marc Ayotte

By the time this edition lands on your kitchen table, the 12U Blast softball team members will have dispersed from the South and individually made their northerly trek back to the tiny town of Litchfield, NH.  But oh, what an amazing week preceded their return.

In an impressive display of team cohesiveness and talent, the Blast sailed into unchartered waters at this year’s Babe Ruth World Series in Alachua, Florida.  And for the first time in team history, they advanced to compete in the World Series (championship) bracket; finishing their Sunshine State appearance with a head-turning 4-4 record.

The Blast qualified to compete at the World Series after winning the national qualifier held in Londonderry earlier in the season.  As one of the ‘at-large’ teams, the Litchfield ensemble took advantage of their chance to shine on the national stage.  “We kind of put ourselves on the map,” reflected Head Coach Bob Wright, of the team’s stellar, week-long performance against teams representing much more heavily populated towns and states.  “Our goal was to be competitive.  I think we have been very competitive, I’m ecstatic,” added the Blast skipper.

After arriving in Florida in the afternoon of August 7, an ensuing hectic schedule which included the Thursday evening opening ceremonies left the Blast with a ‘short’ night before tournament play opened up on Friday morning.  “I think everyone was dragging a little bit,” recalled Wright of the 6-2 loss to Ormond Beach, Fla.

But the Blast regrouped and came back refreshed for their 5:30 p.m. start against Stamford, Conn.  A week earlier, the same Stars team knocked Litchfield out of the New England Regionals held in Rochester, NH; so retribution was certainly on the team’s collective mind.  “We were focused, hit the ball well and played very good defense,” expressed Wright of the 7-5 win.  “It was nice to pay them back a little bit.”

The clutch win kept the Blast’s hopes alive, entering play on Saturday morning.  Behind the strong pitching of Marissa Carignan, Litchfield blanked Ocala (Fla.) by a 4-0 score.  “Carignan pitched lights-out,” offered Wright, adding that both the infield and outfield played well with special kudos going out to Steph Daigle, who played great at third base.  At that point is when Coach Wright revealed, “We were starting to turn heads down here.”

Next on the docket was a little sampling of the left coast competition.  The Blast jumped out to an early lead in game four of tournament play en route to a 5-4 win over the team representing Lodi, Calif.  “We hung on for that one,” recounted Wright.  A key play in that win came late in the game when left fielder Jordan Kanelli made a great catch and then threw to third base, catching the unsuspecting Lodi base runner for an inning-ending double play.  As a result, the Blast emerged from pool play as the number 3 seed (ninth overall) with a 3-1 record and advanced to the championship bracket (top 12 teams).

“It’s the first time ever,” exclaimed a jubilant Wright of the Blast’s inaugural visit into the double-elimination round.  “It’s unbelievable.”  Speaking on behalf of his team, Wright said, “The girls were really excited and proud of what they accomplished.”

With the prospects of a national title still in their sights, the Blast took to the diamond against a team from Germantown, Ky.  Going up against their lefty ace, Wright indicated, “She was probably one of the hardest throwers we faced all year.”  Some aggressive base running gave the Blast an early 2-1 lead which they increased to 5-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth and final inning.  “Then it unraveled,” recalled Wright as his team surrendered five runs in dropping a 6-5 decision; a defeat that he referred to as a “heartbreaker.”

A subsequent 7-4 loss to Winter Park (FL) in game 6, eliminated the Blast from the championship bracket, making them instant participants in the Commissioner’s Cup – a bracket reflecting all the teams that had been eliminated from the ‘World Series’ bracket.

The girls continued their fine play, defeating Stamford (Conn.) once again, this time by 4-3 count.  Trailing 3-0, the Blast rallied for three runs in their half of the third, only to see their opponents regain the lead at 4-3 in the fifth.  But this time it was Litchfield that scored in their final at bat.  A crucial hit by Alisa Gonzales paced the Blast as they plated a pair of runners for a dramatic 6-5 win; completing the double-downing of a very strong Stamford Stars squad.  Facing elimination from ‘Cup play’ with a loss, Wright said of his team’s extraordinary effort, “They weren’t going to go home because of Connecticut.”

However, the tournament did come to a conclusion for Litchfield in the early morning hours of August 12, as an 11:45 p.m. first pitch on Monday night culminated in a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to Winter Park.  “They scratched out a run in the first and we just couldn’t get it going,” admitted Wright.

As a special note of interest, Stamford was the only team in the tournament to defeat this year’s World Series Champions, Bloomingdale (FL) – the Blast defeated Stamford, twice!  To that fact, Wright noted, “When we came down here we were nervous,” primarily due to the uncertainty of how they would stand up against the best teams across the land.  After four wins against the best competition in the country, and a lot of softball spectators’ heads on a swivel taking note of this upstart team from Litchfield, NH, Wright closed with a proud commentary on his team: “I think above and beyond everything, this team has proven we can hang with anybody.”