Star gazing: 8U all-stars set for tourney|Team playing for a Southeast Regional title

Published 4:55 am Friday, July 16, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
The sweat could be seen dripping off the faces of everyone working inside the dimly lit, barn-like structure known as The Cage.
Though it was only 7 p.m., once inside the building the scarce lighting allowed for time to escape, giving the feeling that the next meal could either be breakfast or dinner. However, the athletes working inside the batting facility weren’t focused on time, and would probably be happy with pancakes or pizza after practice either way.
The main concern on Wednesday for the Washington 8U all-stars was fine-tuning their swings and honing the craft of slap-hitting; so far this summer both approaches have looked pretty good.
The Washington 8U all-stars garnered a District 6 championship before the gritty group took third place at this year’s Babe Ruth ENC State Softball tournament held in Kinston.
That performance allowed the team to make history, and when they travel to Altamonte Springs, Fla., on July 20, they will be the first-ever Washington 8U squad to advance to the Babe Ruth Southeast Regional tournament.
The tournament is double-elimination style and will consistent of three five-team pools. The first round will eliminate nine of the 15 teams, putting last remaining squads into the Knockout Round, which will produce the Southeast Regional champion.
“They are absolutely excited,” said 8U first-year coach Harry Main, who along with assistant coaches Dallis Tucker and Anthony “Dunker” Keech have helped guide this team on its historic march.
“There are probably a few girls that don’t even realize that this is the first 8-and-under team that is advancing to a Southeast Regional. I didn’t realize it till it was pointed out to me. But we just want to go out and play hard and represent the city of Washington. That was our goal, to play hard, win games and represent the city.”
So far the team has done a fine job of meeting its goals. Main said what makes this team so special is its balanced roster.
“We have a great mixture of kids on this team,” Main said. “We have some kids that can absolutely pound the ball. We know when they step up to the plate it’s going to be a base hit. We also have some kids out there in the field that you know when it’s hit to them it’s going to be an out. They’re going to catch and throw somebody out. We have a wide range of talent, and all of these players have improved.”
What makes this group so special is that they are excelling at such a young age. Greg Dority, the president of the Washington Girls Softball League, said that historically Washington usually doesn’t start competing with larger programs until the players get into the later age brackets because of its small-ball style of play.
“This is the strongest 8U team Washington has ever fielded. We are blending speed, defense and aggressive base running and we have reached the point now where we can compete with anyone in the country,” Dority said. “We are really aggressive on the bases; it’s a speed game. We do a lot of bunting. As we get into the older groups we do a lot of slap-hitting. Washington is considered the leader in slap-hitting in the entire state. It’s a commitment we’ve made to realize that to battle the larger programs we have to win with pitching, defense and small-ball and I think in years to come you are going to see Washington win with a lot of small-ball.”
Pitching is the great equalizer in softball. One good pitcher can neutralize a whole lineup. However, in the 8U division, there is not a live pitcher, batters hit off of a catapult-style pitching machine that throws 33 MPH from a distance of 35 feet. That means that to win in 8U, it’s is straight up hitters-versus-hitters and fielders-versus-fielders.
It’s that style matchup that Washington has traditionally had trouble winning, however, that is quickly changing.
“After the 2009 12U team defeated Pitt County twice on the last day to win the Southeastern Regional, it’s now generally considered that Washington is the Beasts of the East,” Dority said. “We are considered the strongest program in Eastern North Carolina, and to be one of the strongest programs, in the strongest league, in what is the strongest district, the Southeast Regional, tells us that softball in Washington is on the rise.”
Helping lead that rise are a couple of standout 8U all-star hitters.
“Emerson Davis, Treasure Biggs and Abbigail Tucker, Hannah Evans, offensively they pound the ball,” Maine said.
One would think coaching a team in such high-stakes tournaments would be filled with tough decisions, but Maine said the hardest part of his day happens before the games even start. His biggest challenge is trying to fill out a 10-player defensive lineup and an 11-player batting order out of a 12-girl roster loaded with talent.
“Unfortunately, two players aren’t going to start the game (defensively). That is one of the hardest things that I have dealt with,” Maine said. “We did have a couple of games where two girls did not make it in to play. It’s just the toughest by far. I can take all the practices, I can take the losses, but when it comes to it, I try to put what’s best for the team first. … That is absolutely the most difficult decision is not having a child get in the game.”
Outside the lines, the most difficult task is trying to raise funds for all 12 of the girls to be able to fly, eat and lodge in Florida for five days, that’s why the team is doing all sorts of fundraising functions.
On Saturday, the 8U all-stars will be holding both a car wash at Franks Pizza from 10 a.m. on, while holding a yard sale at Linda’s Flowers starting at 7 a.m. Any business or individual who would like to contribute can contact Main via e-mail at