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Champs Had Victory in Mind

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They arrived as underdogs, then had to play in temperatures that topped 100 degrees.

But the 11 girls on the Thousand Oaks Thunder fast-pitch softball team prevailed, emerging as the Amateur Softball Assn.'s national champions for fast-pitch softball in their age division.

The girls, ages 9, 10 and 11, competed against 36 teams from across the country in College Station, Texas, last month.

The secret of their success? Lots of hard work and two grand slams that propelled them into the final game.

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Since forming in May, “we practiced almost every weekday for about two hours a day,” said Karli Adkins, who plays first base.

Constant Practice Made a Difference

Those hours of practice and a feeling of unity made the difference, she said.

“We won because we played as a team and worked together and didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Karli said.

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The challenges began even before the first game, when the team found its Texas hotel dirty and full of cockroaches. After much searching, they found another place that could accommodate 11 families, team mom and nurse Audrey Berman said.

Then they had to overcome temperatures of 104 to 108 degrees and 60% humidity. The players drank plenty of water and wore bandannas that had a gelatin solution inside to them retain water and cool their body temperatures, Berman said.

“It was really hot and humid. The second we’d go outside we would be sweating,” Jessica Berman said.

The biggest drama on the field came when the Thunder played Simi Valley, a team that had beaten them before. They were behind 6-0, and it looked as though Simi Valley would win before Marla Mathews hit a grand slam, followed by another grand slam by Jessica Berman. The final score: 8-6.

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“I didn’t think I could ever hit a grand slam,” Jessica said. “I was so amazed I started crying.”

The championship game, against Yorba Linda, went into extra innings with the score tied 3-3 until the team’s youngest member, 9-year-old Torey Best, scored the winning run. Simi Valley ended up in third place behind Yorba Linda.

In addition to the national title, several players won individual competitions. Brittany Reynolds took first in the fast-pitch competition, with a 56-mph throw. Teammate Rachel Wisuri came in third with a 53-mph pitch.

Marla Mathews, the catcher, won second in the farthest-throw category, with a throw of 147 feet, 10 inches. The fastest team competition was won by Karli Adkins, Jessica Berman, Nora Sobczak, and Samantha Takeshita, who relayed around the bases in 53.7 seconds.

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The team had hoped to reach the nationals, but the dream seemed almost impossible, manager Richard Reynolds said.

“We knew we were going in strong with a lot of talent, but they were playing against a lot of good teams, so we didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” Reynolds said.

Besides the hours of practice, Coach Mike Best gives credit to a technique he learned years before.

Players Relaxed, Visualized Victory

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Before each game, he had the girls relax in a shady spot and visualize playing well. They would imagine themselves hitting the ball, catching, throwing and running, Best said.

“Some people thought it looked crazy until the girls won, and then they wanted to learn all about visualization,” Audrey Berman said.

Since their return, the team has had other exciting moments. On Tuesday, the mayor and City Council presented the girls with a special-achievement award.

It made the adventure even more memorable, parent Steve Berman said.

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“My daughter has learned a valuable life lesson,” he said. “If she believes in something and works hard at it, anything is possible.”


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