By LANCE MASTERSON
Of the Keizertimes
A top 25 performance will be just fine for the 18U Willamette Valley Fastpitch (WVF) softball team.
The team, which qualified for the national tournament in Hemet, Calif., is comprised of players from throughout the area, including three from Keizer: outfielder Mollie Bello, catcher Genetta Bennett and pitcher Erin Hento.
The trio were members of the 2010 McNary softball team that made it to the semifinals of the Class 6A state tournament. This is most likely the last time they’ll all play as teammates.
Though Bennett and Hento will take their game to George Fox University – next year will mark their sixth straight year as battery mates – Bello is headed to the University of Oregon. Neither Hento nor Bello will play ASA ball next summer.
“I’m excited. I’m going to work my hardest because I know it’s the last time I’m going to play. I want to end it on a good note,” said Bello.
This is WVF’s second trip to nationals in as many years. Last year they finished 66th out of 132 teams.
“We were middle of the pack last year,” said Coach Don Harp. “But we were mostly a 16U team, playing up to 18. Probably nine of our 12 girls were 16U eligible.”
Harp expects a higher finish in 2010.
“I’d like to be in the top 25, but you never know,” he said. “Every player on this team can come back another year except for three. We have a really good core group of girls. Every year we seem to get a little better and a little better.”
One of last year’s highlights came when WVF defeated a team from Texas.
“I always thought Texas, you know, they grow them big in Texas. Well, we beat a Texas team. So that was an accomplishment for us,” said Hento. “Little Oregon beating a big Texas team. That’s kind of cool.”
Entering nationals, the girls have won 27 of 34 games.
“They get along so well,” said Harp when asked the secret to his team’s success. “… We’ve had teams in the past where you’ve had different cliques and it’s really hard to get them to bond. But we don’t have that problem. They all get along really well. They compliment each other really well.”
Other strengths include pitching and defense. Hitting will need to be more consistent.
“We definitely need to work on our offense,” said Bello.
Hento, a first-team all-CVC selection, shares pitching duties with Bre Hendrick. She agrees a little more offense will go a long way toward the team’s reaching its goal.
“We need to string a lot of hits together,” said Hento. “We’re having a little difficulty with that right now … We need to hit the ball hard and where they’re not.”
Stamina will also go a long way toward determining the team’s success as well Bennett said it’s not uncommon for ASA tournament teams to play four games in a single day.
Harp said WVF heads into the tournament loaded with quality but short on quantity.
“What we have here is what we’re going to take,” he said. ”We have 11 solid players and we’ll make it work. As long as we win, we can spread out our games, which gives our pitching staff a chance to rest.”
It’s a different matter for teams that end up in the loser’s bracket.
“If you get in the losers’ bracket, you go back-to-back-to-back, and you tend to run out of gas,” said Harp. “You want to be full speed ahead when you go into it, not just limping along.”