Newport team clinches softball D division title — headed to nationals

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Rhonda Howard, pitching for the Newport-based D&D Electric softball team, delivers a pitch during Sunday's tournament play.  Short stop Ashley Gravel (background left) prepares for the play.   Photo by Richard Creaser

Rhonda Howard, pitching for the Newport-based D&D Electric softball team, delivers a pitch during Sunday’s tournament play. Short stop Ashley Gravel (background left) prepares for the play. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser 

NEWPORT — Solid defense and great team chemistry have propelled D&D Electric onto the national stage.  The Newport-based team has earned a berth at the Amateur Softball Association of America’s national eastern C and D division championships in Canton, Ohio, at the end of August.  D&D Electric earned the berth by winning the D division state tournament held at Gardner Park in Newport over the weekend.

D&D Electric defeated Accura Printing of Barre, 4-2 to clinch the title and remain undefeated throughout the tournament.  Coach and pitcher Rhonda Howard credits solid defense, particularly from fielders Krista Sargent and Christiane Brown, for keeping Accura off the board and securing the win.

“They had some really great catches to keep them off the bases,” Howard said.  “It was a really close game but we came out on top.”

Slow pitch softball is a game within a game.  The slow arc of the ball is deceptive in its movements.  Unlike a batting practice lob, the ball can be imbued with off-speed movement.  Controlling the arc and controlling its location are essential elements to the game.

“A good pitcher can have a great impact,” Dori Austin of The Rez in Waterbury said.  “A good pitcher can place the ball to make a hitter hit it where you want it to land.  That’s why you will hear the good pitchers moving their players around.”

The ability to dictate the flow of the game separates the good pitchers from the rest, Ms. Howard agreed.  It’s also a matter of learning the hitting habits of your opponents and playing to their weaknesses, she said.

“If you know the teams, you know where they are most likely to hit it,” Laura McClure of Burnett Scrap Metals from Burlington said.  “It does help to play against teams you normally would play.  You start out already knowing something about them.”

Playing against unfamiliar teams requires patience and a willingness to watch your rivals in action against other squads.  It was not unheard of for at least some opponents to watch games in progress, scouting out their rivals in preparation for the next round.

Slow pitch is less about big, dramatic hits and more about small ball — the art of generating hits and moving your players along the base paths.

Scottie Taylor (left) playing for McKees Pub & Grill in Winooski, makes a diving stab at an errant ball as Chelsea Trombley playing for Burnett Scrap Metals of Burlington reaches first base.  Newport's Gardner Park was the host site for the Vermont Amateur Softball Association of America's state C and D division tournament over the weekend. Photo by Richard Creaser

Scottie Taylor (left) playing for McKees Pub & Grill in Winooski, makes a diving stab at an errant ball as Chelsea Trombley playing for Burnett Scrap Metals of Burlington reaches first base. Newport’s Gardner Park was the host site for the Vermont Amateur Softball Association of America’s state C and D division tournament over the weekend.
Photo by Richard Creaser

“Defense plays a huge part in this game,” Ms. Austin said.  “You need to work at getting people on base and taking advantage of any play that lets you score runners.  You have to earn every run.”

As competitive a sport as it might be, particularly at the state tournament level, no one has forgotten that having fun is also part of the equation.  Many of the players at the tournaments have not only played with their teammates for years, but they have also played against one another for years as well.

“When you get to a tournament like this, sure, it’s about winning games and moving on,” Ms. McClure said.  “But you also have that social aspect.  It’s about good friends meeting up with friends they haven’t seen in a while.”

softball cooler

Dori Austin, playing for The Rez out of Waterbury, rides on the must have cooler for tournament play. The cooler keep beverages cool and helps players navigate the tournament grounds ensuring they arrive at the dugout rested and refreshed.
Photo by Richard Creaser

Cans of beer, canopies and the smell of hot dogs give the tournament a festive air.  The fact that Ms. Austin is also driving around on a motorized cooler only adds to the carnival-like atmosphere.  The scooter-cooler is a handy way to get around and keep beverages cold, but it also has a story behind it, Ms. Austin said.

“I wrote a letter to talk show host Ellen Degeneres and she read it on air,” Ms. Austin said.  “A little while later they sent this cooler from her show.  They featured the Cruzin’ Cooler on her show and she sent us one.”

Ms. Howard, Ms. Austin and Ms. McClure have all been part of teams that have competed at the national level.  It is, they agreed, an incredible experience as players and fans of the game.

“The level of softball you see when you get to nationals is just phenomenal,” Ms. Howard said.

Christiane Brown of Newport smashes a ball down the first base line during Sunday's tournament play at Gardner Park.  Ms. Brown and her teammates on D&D Electric, won the state D division and will advance to the eastern national tournament in Canton, Ohio, in late August.  D&D Electric remained undefeated throughout the tournament and captured the title with a 4-2 win over Accura Printing from Barre. Photo by Richard Creaser

Christiane Brown of Newport smashes a ball down the first base line during Sunday’s tournament play at Gardner Park. Ms. Brown and her teammates on D&D Electric, won the state D division and will advance to the eastern national tournament in Canton, Ohio, in late August. D&D Electric remained undefeated throughout the tournament and captured the title with a 4-2 win over Accura Printing from Barre.
Photo by Richard Creaser

Does that high level of play intimidate the Vermont teams at all?  Not in the least, Ms. Howard said.

She played on the Newport squad that went to nationals in 2007.

“The teams from the south, where they can play pretty much all year, yeah, they have some advantages,” Ms. Howard said.  “We play sometimes in the winter, in the snow.  But ball is ball.  You go out there, give it 100 percent and see what happens.”

Ms. McClure’s team, though relatively new, includes a core group that had participated in eight straight C division state titles.  Team chemistry matters as much as field time when it comes to tournament play, she said.

“It takes it to a whole other level,” Ms. McClure said of the national tournament experience.  “It’s an awesome experience and it’s just always great to be able to travel as a team.”

Winning the state tournament or being the runner-up is only part of the ticket to the national tournament.  Each team that advances to represent Vermont now faces less than a month to raise the money to get them to Ohio.  D&D Electric will hold a team meeting later this week to formulate a plan, Ms. Howard said.

“We don’t have anything definite planned right now but we have a few ideas,” she said.  “We are thinking of a big garage sale, holding a car wash, and approaching local businesses to sponsor us.”

Anyone interested in supporting D&D Electric in their bid for the eastern national C division title can contact Ms. Howard at (802) 673-4156 for more information.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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