Playing marathon softball games is nothing new for the 16-and-under Carolina Attitude from Welcome, N.C. After winning their second eight-inning game in the 2007 NSA Class A Girls Fastpitch World Series on Thursday against the Oly Fire, the Attitude stood at 4-0.
After a game that left the crowd and umpires amazed at the fierce level of competition, the Attitude scored on a wild pitch in the eighth inning for the victory.
"We feel pretty good," coach Rick McDowell said. "There are no easy games when you have a tournament like this."
In their first extra-inning game, the Attitude won 3-0. In their second, they won 1-0. McDowell said it is no coincidence that his team plays well in close games.
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"These girls work extremely hard," he said. "They work 12 months out of the year on their craft, so they take it seriously."
McDowell said that his team has the tools to win it all this week.
"We got great pitching, defense, and the (bats)," he said. "I think we can go real far."
• UNUSUAL METHODS: Before every game, teams warm up and go through the usual array of pre-game rituals: soft toss, hitting off the tee, etc. One thing you would expect not to see is a team hitting beans as part of its warm-up drills.
That's precisely what coach Rick Mills has his 14-and-under Carolina Troublemakers out of Salisbury, N.C., doing.
"We do it to train the front side to remain level and come all the way through," said Mills talking in his baseball vernacular. "It helps them put the ball in play consistently."
Mills said he began this technique in December, realizing that hitting an exponentially smaller object would greatly enhance his team's chances of becoming great hitters. Mills added that his team sometimes uses nunchucks to hit the beans. Thursday, an assistant coach dropped to one knee and tossed white beans purchased at a grocery store to the players.
Along with using beans, Mills also has his team swing a weighted bat into a punching bag in the off-season to train his hitters to hit through the ball.
"Keeping the head on the bean, and hitting through the ball is the key," Mills said.
Focusing on offense is a must for Mills, because he feels that his team's pitching and defense are more than adequate.
"I feel pretty good about our chances," he said. "We have the best pitching and defense in here. If we hit, we can beat anybody."
• UMPIRE SATISFACTION: Danny Curtis and David Lascewski are just two of the many umpires working at Cherry Park this week. Being in the scorching heat and often criticized more than praised, umpiring an event like the NSA World Series is sometimes a thankless job.
Curtis has been an umpire more than 25 years. He rates the competition this week as top notch.
"These girls are really good," he said. "I am having fun."
Lascewski said that umpiring this World Series has been nothing short of great for him.
"For most of us umpires, we don't make a dime," he said. "But we come down here for the competition and love of the game."
• LIFE APPLICATIONS: While awaiting the end of the eight-inning affair between the aforementioned Carolina Attitude and Oly Fire, the 16-and-under Crusaders from Nashville, Tenn., were focused. They would soon play an elimination game.
But win or lose, the Crusaders' coaches are determined to make women out their group of girls.
"Our goal is to make softball more applicable to life," assistant coach Marc Locke said. "Handling wins and losses and the mental part of the game."
Coach Bobby Queen said that his team, which was preparing to play against the Ohio Magic, has been a resilient bunch all year.
"This group doesn't get real high or real low," Queen said. "They are a good group of girls."
As for any signs of nervousness during a do-or-die matchup, Queen said that he doesn't expect them to show any signs of faltering. He said that this is a mature team primed to make big decisions in their life soon.
"A lot of them are thinking about going to college, and they got to step it up a bit," he said. "Time to focus."