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Five Warwick players lead Stars to Eastern National crown
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Memorial Day Madness started what turned out to be one mad ride for the 16U PA Shooting Stars girls fast-pitch Junior Olympic softball team this summer.
Nearly three months later, that road led them to the Pony Eastern National Championship on Aug. 1 in Cary, N.C., capped by a 6-2 victory over the Richmond Storm in the finals which improved their record to 42-9-2.
"We thought we had a chance and that was certainly one of our goals at the beginning of the year," Shooting Stars coach Jon Byler said.
The squad consisted of five Warwick players — juniors-to-be Victoria Byler, Nikole Rottkamp and Jenny George and soon-to-be sophomores August Mason and Vanessa Strohm. But they got key performances from all 11 girls on the roster — the majority of those from the Lancaster-Lebanon League — while assembling a well-rounded attack.
"We’re exceptional defensively — I think that was our key," Byler said, "and our pitching was exceptional all weekend long. We have 11 kids that can really play. Everybody contributed, which was great."
That pitching staff included Conestoga Valley’s Nicole Allen (2-1, 0.53 ERA), Victoria Byler (3-0, 1.53 ERA) and Pequea Valley’s Amanda Houck (3-1. 0.93 ERA), who combined on the hill to help the team finish 8-2 in the five-day tournament.
Success, though, was nothing new for the Shooting Stars, who won four of six tournaments this summer while also competing in several showcases. Their Memorial Day Madness win in Hagerstown, Md. qualified them for the Pony Eastern National Championships, which got underway July 27 featuring teams from Maine to South Carolina and as far as west as Ohio and Tennessee.
The Stars hit the ground running in Cary, placing second with a 2-1 record in opening-round pool play. All 38 teams then advanced into eight double-elimination brackets, seeded according to their finish in pool play, and the Shooting Stars continued to build on their momentum by winning four of five games. In fact, Katie Zogorski of Manheim Township slugged a walk-off home run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the final game of that round, lifting the Stars to a 2-1 bracket-clinching win and into the tournament’s elite eight.
"The Hudson Valley Express was probably the best team we played all year," Byler said. "We ended up facing them three times in the double-elimination brackets, winning two of the three games, and all three games were one-run games."
From there, in the first of three single-elimination games on Aug. 1, Houck pitched a complete-game two-hitter and Rottkamp mashed a three-run homer to send the Shooting Stars to a 3-0 win over the Connecticut Bombers Teal.
Overall, Rottkamp’s .417 batting average in Cary was second on the team behind only leadoff batter Lauren Priebe (Conrad Weiser), who batted .500. Allen and Mason each hit .393, while Byler, Priebe and Rottkamp led the way with seven RBI’s apiece.
"We hit very well throughout the lineup," Byler remarked.
That was definitely the case in the final three frames against Virginia Galaxy in the semi-finals, using some late-inning magic to keep their dreams alive. Trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth, Strohm and Mason singled, then advanced on Allen’s fielder’s choice and scored on Zogorski’s two-run double, cutting the Galaxy’s lead to 4-3.
It remained that way going into the Shooting Stars’ final at-bats in the seventh. But Victoria Byler led off with a single, then Strohm legged out a bunt single, and a throwing error put both runners in scoring position. Next, Mason stroked a two-run single to left-center to boost the Stars to a 5-4 win and into the finals.
Allen picked up the win in relief of Houck in that battle, and then she also earned the decision against the Richmond Storm in the championship game with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief behind Byler. Houck also got the ball in that game, allowing just one run over the final three innings.
"I think that was one of the keys was our depth in pitching," coach Byler said.
While the Shooting Stars’ pitchers held the Storm in check, Zogorski’s solo home run in the top of the second inning snapped a 1-1 tie and gave the team a lead it never lost.
They added two more runs in the sixth on a two-run double by Zogorski (2-for-3, 3 RBI’s) and Priebe’s RBI single highlighted a two-run seventh, as the Stars sealed the clinching win.
"It was a fun year. It was a great weekend," Byler said. "Obviously things have to go right and you have to get key hits and that stuff has to fall into place. But we did think we had a chance and that was certainly one of our goals at the beginning of the year." More SHOOTING STARS, page B-6