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THE girls of summer are back, and spring isn’t even over yet.
The United Softball Fastpitch Association state tournament has brought more than 100 teams and 1,000-plus youth athletes to the Columbus area. Play began Friday and will end with Sunday’s championships.
“This is one of the biggest (tournaments) we have had for USFA ... with 24 teams in each group from 8-and-under through to 18-and-under,” said Jim Hilderbrand, USFA tournament director.
A packaging designer for Pyramid Paper Products, Hilderbrand started as an umpire before helping organize softball tourney’s such as this week’s.
“It takes a lot of work to plan something like this,” Hilderbrand said. “We have been working on it for two weeks. A lot of people are working, and it’s coming together pretty good I think.”
Of the 18-and-under teams, three showcase area girls: the Taylorsville-based Indiana Nitro, Illusions (with three Edinburgh players) and the Indy Smoke with Hauser rising senior pitcher Breanna Lange.
“I’d say we are the host team in a way,” said Nitro coach Tim Ayers. “There are a couple of other local teams, but with all our girls from around here we kind of take it upon ourselves to make sure everybody is having a good time.”
The team consists of three girls from Jennings County, two from Shelbyville, two from Jac-Cen-Del, one from Seymour and one from Indian Creek.
“We are based out of Taylorsville,” Ayers said. “That is where our organization is out of.
“But here in Columbus is where we play most of our ball. This is our home field.”
Longtime local softball coach Ed Loweth coaches the 16-and-under team, which feeds into the 18-and-under squad. Loweth’s team begins play today.
“We started with (Loweth) who came to us and wanted us to play,” said Annie Plofkin, the 18-and-under Nitro’s leadoff hitter from Jennings County. “We thought it was just going to be for a summer, but then it expanded into this.”
“He has been around softball forever, and he is still coaching the younger Nitro girls,” said Brechelle Sutton, another Jennings player on the Nitro’s 18-and-under team.
The tourney field includes local teams of all age levels, including the 10-and-under Red Alert, the 12-and-under Red Alert, the 14-and-under Hope Jets and the North Vernon-based 16-and-under Indiana Stingers. But there are plenty of visitors playing at the Edinburgh Sports Complex, Lincoln Park, Clifty Park and Ceraland this weekend.
“The Indiana Nitro is one of our local teams with a lot of local girls on it,” said Hilderbrand, “but we have teams coming in from as far as the Louisville area and the Wabash area. We welcome as many teams as we can get into it.”
Kentucky teams are in the field because they don’t have a state tournament of their own.
The Nitro lost their first game of the tournament 8-0 to the Louisville Magic, whose pitcher, Allison Foster, threw a perfect game that included nine strikeouts in the five innings before the game was called.
Edinburgh softball coach Vance Murray, who is helping coach three current or former Lancers softball players (daughter Taylor Murray, Nisha Brown, and Murissa Whitis) on Illusions, was thrilled to be playing close to home.
“This is our first time playing in Columbus since Taylor was 12,” Vance Murray said of the recent Edinburgh grad. “Before she was playing all over the country, trying to get more college exposure, but with her already signing (with Taylor University), we thought it would be good to stay local but still play against good competition.”
Illusions also lost in the opening round to Indy Brigade, 4-3.
“It’s nice being able to sleep in your own bed,” Vance Murray said, “to stay local and still be able to play at a high level is really something.“
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