Local softballers play with Pride at Nationals
After blowing through its first seven games at the United States Specialty Sports Association’s Western Nationals tournament, the Pride, a local 12U fastpitch softball squad, faced its first test in the July 30 semifinals.
Passing that test to reach the July 31 championship contest, and a rematch with the same opponent (Adrenaline Elite from Corona), Pride thought it might have a tough obstacle to overcome, especially following a triple from the Elite’s leadoff hitter.
But Angelina Russo and her Pride teammates had other ideas. Russo struck out the next two batters, got the third out of the inning on a groundout, then saw her squad score four runs in the bottom half to take control. Pride then cruised to a 7-1 victory in that title tilt and emerged with the tournament crown.
“Russo is a calm leader when she is in the circle because she has a lot of confidence, and that confidence rubbed off on the other girls and brought their confidence level up,” Pride coach Steve Indian said of his ace, who is one of five players on the team from Encinitas. “I knew after that (first inning) that we had this game because the momentum had really shifted.”
Momentum was something the Pride hadn’t lost often during the weeklong Nationals tourney, contested at the Big League Dreams softball complex in West Covina. The locals went 9-0, outscoring their opponents by a total of 73-10.
Pool play started on July 26, with Pride beating The Next Level (from San Diego), 10-0 and the Rancho Cucamonga OC Batbusters, 11-2.
“We could tell by how we played on (July 26) that we were going to play really well the rest of the week,” Indian said.
And boy were they right. A 9-1 win over the Arizona Outlaws on July 27 completed pool play, and the Pride started bracket play by knocking off the New Mexico Sting (10-0), the Orcutt Renegades (5-1), Primetime Elite from City of Industry (8-0) and the Newbury Park Victory (5-1).
That sent the locals into the semifinals, where Adrenaline Elite gave them their first close game. Pride took an early 2-0 lead but the Elite cut it in half immediately, and it remained a one-run game through five innings. Ahead 5-4 at that point, the locals scored three times in the sixth to take control.
“It was good for us because we were being tested that night and we came through,” Indian said. “Yes, the other team was scoring runs, but our pitchers were still throwing well and our batters were on fire, as they had been all tournament.”
The quintet from Encinitas, Russo — who was the tournament’s Pitching MVP after throwing 29 innings and striking out 40 while allowing just one run (in the seventh inning of the title game with her team already ahead 7-0) — Alyssa Cortinas, Kaitlyn Farley, Heather Phares and Julianna Wilkens were some of Pride’s biggest hitters, but it was teammate Simone Cobb that won the overall MVP with her .565 average.
Another teammate, Valerie Remley, hit .500 with 11 RBIs to take home the offensive MVP award.
Still, the Encinitas crew came through in a big way as Cortinas also batted .500 for the week, and was one of the better defensive third baseman in the tournament.
“She is one of our power hitters, one we could always count on to hit a double or hit it to the fence with runners on base,” Indian said of Cortinas.
Farley covered a ton of ground in center field and the speedy leadoff hitter stole seven bases — Indian said she “created havoc for the defense” — to go with her 10 hits and six walks.
Wilkins shined at second base, often taking away hits with diving stops, and was the perfect No. 2 hitter as she exceled at making contact to move Farley over.
The versatile Phares hit .395 in the middle of the Pride lineup and could spell teammates at catcher and third base, while Russo’s pitching prowess was complemented by her .350 batting average.
When Russo wasn’t in the circle, Kylie Mead (19 innings with just two earned runs allowed) and Dayla McAuliffe (12 innings, four runs) also threw well. Handling the Pride staff for all nine games was catcher Ashley Alhouse and Indian said “her strong work behind the plate helped us win a lot of games.” Alhouse also hit .524 for the tournament.
Additional season-long contributions came from Georgia Van Houten, Kylee Duylea, Charley Walsh and Cassidy Saunar, as the Pride started playing tournaments in February — always with one eye on the season-ending Nationals.
“Like any team we had our ups and downs, but it was all a learning process to get them mentally prepared for the end of the season,” Indian said. “It worked out perfectly for us because, amazingly, all 14 players were at their peak at (Nationals).”
Indian, who also runs the San Dieguito youth softball program where he has watched the Encinitas girls grow for more than five years, said Pride will start its next season in September.