A little less than a month ago, the H&H Heat traveled to Horseheads (NY) to compete in an elite invitational tournament.
There, the local lasses battled their way to a silver medal finish in a brutally competitive 14U bracket.
That performance left the Heat just one team removed from a berth in the ASA's Eastern Nationals. Close, but no cigar right?
Just 10 days before opening ceremonies, coach Bob Martin was informed that the tournament champs had declined their invite ... a development that meant H&H could go instead.
The Heat leapt at this rare opportunity.
Players, fans, family and friends embarked on a last minute fundraising frenzy to make the weekend-long journey to York possible.
Sadly, insofar as wins and losses go, H&H took its lumps at their first-ever national event. The Heat suffered a pair of lopsided losses on Day One, then were eliminated from medal contention with two razor-thin setbacks on Day Two.
Nevertheless, Coach Martin had nothing but positive comments for his young team.
"This was absolutely a great experience for all of the girls," he said.
"We really didn't play all that badly. We're young, though, and the competition was very tough. Like I told the girls afterward, we'll be back there again."
On the Field
H&H opened up its quest for a national championship on Hoffman Field at York's Veterans Memorial Athletic Complex.
The Heat took on PA's own Lady Stormers in Round One and came out on the short end of a 13-3 final. The local lasses followed that up with a 15-4 loss to the Monmouth Surf of New Jersey.
Page 2 of 3 - After a good night's sleep, H&H squared off with one of the nation's top teams, the Lady Fireballs of Muncy. This squad closed out the tournament ranked #10 overall, but had its hands full with a scrappy Heat squad.
When the dust settled, the Fireballs barely escaped with a 4-3 decision.
H&H also fought to the bitter end in its final game, a 6-4 loss to the Shooting Stars of Lancaster.
"We went 0-4 overall, but I'm so proud of these girls," Coach Martin said. "They never give up, no matter what the score is or who they're playing against."
While every single girl on the H&H roster contributed key plays to the cause, Coach Martin singled out several for special mention.
Ellie Motichka earned high marks for her performance as the Heat's "designated player."
A hard-hitting righty who anchored the line-up from her clean-up spot, Motichka was right in the middle of nearly every H&H uprising.
"Ellie just ripped the ball all weekend long," Coach Martin said. "She did a great job for us driving the ball and coming up with big hits when we needed them."
Makalya Rose also received kudos for her play in the outfield and grit at the plate.
A member of the Western Wayne junior high softball team, Rose has had a dramatic impact ever since joining the Heat.
"I moved her up from #8 to #2 in the batting order and she's really starting to thrive," said Coach Martin. "Makayla can really hit the ball and she's also a real hustler in the left field."
Kiana Sauter held down the other corner outfield position.
Page 3 of 3 - Another product of the Western Wayne system, Sauter contributed crucial plays both offensively and defensively.
"Kiana got us some pretty big hits down in the #7 spot," Coach Martin said. "She's also a heck of an outfielder. Kiana ran down just about everything hit her way this weekend."
Angie Ioppolo and Jami Lesek also made opposition coaches it up and take notice at the tournament.
Ioppolo is a new edition to the 14U squad. She played mostly first base for Paupack's junior high team this year, but patrolled center field for the Heat at nationals.
"Angie is a bit, tall kid who can really run," Coach Martin said. "She covered some serious ground in the outfield and even threw a girl out trying to go from first to third."
Lesek continues to develop into one of the best young pitchers around.
The flame-throwing 13-year-old righty absorbed a couple of disappointing losses in York. However, she refused to back down in the face of one menacing slugger after another.
Jami has absolutely no fear whatsoever," Coach Martin said with a laugh. "That kid isn't afraid of anybody. She never backs off and never gives in."
Last, but certainly not least, Coach Martin sang the praises of Alyssa McKean and Jackie Martin, two of the area's most talented young infielders.
"I'll tell you what, there wasn't much that got past those two," he said. "Jackie and Alyssa just make all the plays out there."
Led by this dynamic duo, H&H played error-free softball in each of its high-stakes Day Two games.