CHESTERFIELD VALLEY – One of the first points Missouri Force girls softball coach Mark Avalos makes to potential players that join his team every summer is that his “C”-level program is not one of those interested in playing a super-competitive schedule or looking to gain players lots of college exposure.
Avalos instead prefers to coach a team that’s more interested in camaraderie and learning how to enjoy the game than it is playing a high-intensity summer of win-at-all-costs games.
“I coached ‘A’ level for (many) years,” Avalos said. “And I just didn’t enjoy it as much. I probably talk to the parents before the season more than I do the girls. I want to make sure they know our team’s about having fun. And we probably have the best parent support of any team out there.”
This weekend though, the Force are taking a step up in competition and are serving as the host club for one of the USSSA National Qualifier Tournaments being held this weekend at the Chesterfield Baseball/Softball Association.
The winner of the event earns an all-expenses paid berth into the 2012 USSSA World Series, so many of the area’s top 16U and 18U “C”-level teams have converged on the CBSA to take their shot at nabbing a spot in the national tournament next summer.
Action began for the Force on Wednesday, with an afternoon contest against the Missouri Heat 96, and an evening matchup against the STL Stingers.
And unfortunately for the Force, they just couldn’t get anything going against pitcher Ashley Lutz of the Heat.
The St. Dominic High senior-to-be was just masterful, pitching a complete game for the Heat, allowing just two hits and one run, in a 5-1 win for her team.
“Just like I told the parents, we’re a ‘C’ team playing up,” Avalos said. “Half my team isn’t even 18. So a 5-1 loss to a team (that good), I’m beaming. I’ll take it every day of the week.”
And indeed he should.
The Heat are one of the area’s best 16 and-under teams, with a roster that features several top high school players that seem destined for careers as college players.
So it really is quite an accomplishment for the Force to play an even contest with a team like the Heat.
And were it not for a bit of bad luck on a soft groundball back to the pitcher, it might’ve been the Force that walked away with the win.
The game was scoreless in the second inning, when the Heat’s Sami Austin tapped a ball back to Force pitcher Emily Echele (Orchard Farm), who made a heads up play and chased baserunner Lauren Reynolds back to third base.
At the same time, Jordan Thomure, who was on second base, ran to third as well, leaving the Heat with two runners occupying the same base.
If the Force had played their cards right, they could’ve gotten both runners out and gotten out of the inning with no runs scoring.
But Echele’s throw to third hit Reynolds in the shoulder and rolled away, allowing her to score, Thomure to stay at third, and Austin to race all the way to second.
Two pitches later, Lutz drove in Thomure and Austin with a double, then scored herself on a hit by Samantha Wickes.
That gave the Heat a 4-0 lead, which proved more than enough for Lutz, who held the Force hitless for the first 4 1/3 innings. The Force got its lone run in the fifth, on a single by Amber Hageman and an RBI triple by Amber Morton.
They could’ve possibly gotten more, but Morton was doubled off third when she broke for home on a pop fly to short.
“That was my bad,” Avalos said. “I thought there were two outs, so I told her to go. There was only one out. She ran because I told her to. That was totally my fault.”
Later Wednesday night, the Force played a much better game against the STL Stingers, and won 3-2.
“When we play our level, we’re as competitive as anybody,” Avalos said of his 28-11 Force team. “But when we step up, we kind of struggle because we’re not used to the better pitching.”
The Force will find out where they stand in this national qualifier with a pair of doubleheaders on Thursday and Saturday.
On Thursday, the Force will begin with a 3 p.m. contest against the Livewires and finish with a 6:20 p.m. matchup against Esprit.
Then after a day off on Friday, they’ll finish up the weekend with games against the Missouri Outburst and The Wild Bunch on Saturday.