The comeback girls

Greg Sasaki likes to say his 8-and-under Silver All-Stars in the Irvine Girls' Softball Assn. (IGSA) were a "perfect" 0-18.

That's 0 wins and 18 losses.

But the team he started coaching three years ago that included his daughter, Hannah, has improved, big time.

Sasaki's team is now the 10U Gold All-Stars of the IGSA, and it will play in the Western National Championships in Clovis from Aug. 1-7, having qualified two weekends ago when it placed third in the California state tournament in Lancaster.

Sasaki's girls are 25-8 this season, marking a third consecutive season of improvement. As the 8U Gold All-Stars, they won five games, then last year they won 13 games as the 10U Silver All-stars.

This season, they won two tournaments and placed second in the district tournament before going 6-2 in the state tournament for the third-place finish.

They have a chance to win the Western Nationals, a tournament that will include teams from California, Hawaii, Washington, Nevada, Arizona and Utah, but Sasaki likes to keep that 0-18 team in mind.

"It's interesting because whenever we'd lose a game, say it was 10-0, they'd ask, 'Did we win?' " Sasaki said. "With these young girls, they don't realize they're losing. We had a rule — don't talk about the score. When they'd ask for the score, I'd say, 'We just play softball. I'll tell you the score when we're done.' "

Sasaki never let his girls feel down, even though they were not just losing, they were losing ugly. The league has a four-runs maximum-per-inning rule, and his team needed it.

"In the beginning, we'd give up the max four runs every inning, and then the inning would be over," Sasaki said. "Eventually, we didn't allow a max four runs one inning, we got them out, and I said OK, we're getting better. We'd always talk about the positives.

"These girls just needed time to catch up. I believed in them. Keep working hard and we'll get better."

The improvement Sasaki's team has made can be measured in more than just wins and losses, but how it improved against one team in particular.

"We played one game where the ump said, 'Can we just end this game?' " Sasaki recalled. "We couldn't get anybody out. So I said, sure, and it was over."

That team was Rancho Trabuco, a team that Sasaki's team beat this year in the district tournament, signifying a complete turnaround.

The club's resilience was never so evident as it was during the state tournament two weeks ago. In a game against Torrance, the ISGA All-Stars rallied with four runs in the top of the seventh to take a one-run lead. But in the bottom of the seventh, a dropped fly ball that would have ended the game instead allowed Torrance to tie it up.

Then Torrance won the game in the International Tie Break.

In the double-elimination tournament, that first loss can be devastating to a team. Instead of remaining undefeated and going back to their hotel to rest for games the following day, the girls had to play again that same night, and the game didn't start until 9:15 p.m.

"It was a crushing defeat," Sasaki said. "We had to wait to play again and I expected we might have a letdown. But Trina Hoang goes out and pitches a no-hitter. It was a great pick-me-up."

It was the club's third no-hitter of the season, as Hannah Sasaki and Sabrina Dallas each threw one earlier in the season. Hoang's no-no though could not have come at a better time.

They came back Sunday to win their first three games before losing again to a well-rested Torrance team and finished in third place out of what began as a 154-team draw, starting with the district tournament.

Only one other team in the IGSA's 14-year history had reached the state tournament (Mark Fator's 2007 10U squad), but that team did not win a game at state.

"This is such a great story of never giving up," Sasaki said. "People could have looked at the girls as failures, but I never felt that way. They just needed time."

Sasaki's team this year includes Maya Gomez, Kaitlyn Lim, Trina Hoang, Sabrina Dallas, Kiki Besnard, Emily Kubisty, JoJo Michaels, Hannah Sasaki, Sydney Sprinkle, Naomi Stein and Kaitlyn Lologo.

How To Help

The tournament in Clovis will last a full week and the total cost is about $1,000 per player for travel expenses. Those who would like to help pay for expenses can do so by sending a contribution to: Irvine Girls Softball Assn., Attention: National Championship Tournament Donation, P.O. Box 16592, Irvine, CA 92623. Any questions about contributions can be answered by sending an email to Maria De La Cruz at mdelacruz19@gmail.com.

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