Plover 16U battles back to win National Championship
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
The Plover Nationals 16U Fastpitch softball team bounced back from a loss on the final day of the USA Softball Girls B 16-Under Northern National Championships in Bloomington, Ind., with three consecutive victories to win the National Title.
Following an 8-5 loss to the Esprit Metro Webber of Edwardsville, Ill., Sunday, July 28, Plover responded with a 23-7 win over the Sting Elite of Miamisburg, Ohio, and then knocked off Esprit Metro Webber twice, capped with a 13-10 victory in the second game, to bring home the National Championship.
“It was a great experience,” said Plover Nationals 16U head coach Todd VanderLoop. “It was hot, our pitchers were worn out, we got to that last Championship Game, and it was a matter of endurance.
“And we won it on pure mental toughness, because it was more like a slow-pitch softball game, with the runs that were being scored,” he said. “It was just an unbelievable slugfest, a very stressful game to coach, but just an awesome game.”
Two weeks earlier, Plover went 6-1 to win the USA Softball Wisconsin Class B Fastpitch State Tournament in Wausau July 11-14, as it earned a trip to the National Tournament in Bloomington Thursday through Sunday, July 25-28.
The 16U Nationals began the National Tournament with a 4-0 win over the Blackhawks Mayhem of Van Buren, Ohio, Friday morning, and then beat the Esprit Metro Webber 8-3 Friday afternoon to finish 2-0 in Pool Play.
That gave Plover a first-round bye in bracket play, and the team followed with a 13-3 win over the Indiana Matrix of Evansville, Ind., Saturday, July 27.
The Nationals added a 6-3 win over the Sting Elite later Saturday and won 8-0 over the AVANT’s Yellow Jackets of Pekin, Ill., Saturday night to advance to the Semifinals with an unbeaten record.
However, with a berth in the National Championship Game on the line Sunday morning, Plover fell 8-5 to Esprit Metro Webber in the second meeting between the teams in the tournament.
“Things just didn’t go well,” said VanderLoop. “We didn’t play great defense, we didn’t pitch well, and we didn’t hit.
“We went down early in the game, and after three innings, I told the girls, ‘we’re coming back to play this team again,’ they were in the Championship, and I told them, ‘let’s win the next four innings,’” he said. “And we did, and that was just kind of like, ‘OK, let’s just start over, let’s win these four innings, then win the game we’ve got to get to get back to them, and we’re going to beat them twice.’”
Needing a win to remain alive and advance to the National Championship Game, the Nationals came back with a 23-7 victory over the Sting Elite, and then had to beat Esprit Metro Webber a pair of times Sunday afternoon to capture the National Title.
Plover came through with a 15-7 win at 2:30 p.m. to force a second Championship Game at 4:30 p.m., where both teams traded leads throughout the contest.
“We beat them in Pool Play, they beat us Sunday morning, and we battled back and beat them in the first Championship Game,” said VanderLoop. “And then it was just a matter of will.
“It was hot, and four games in a row is a grueling grind, but we were able to move our pitching around, and all three pitchers contributed in the Championship Game,” he said. “We made probably seven or eight pitching changes, just to put one of the girls down and rest them.
“They had great hitters, and our hitters were on top of their game,” he said. “Every inning we were scoring runs, it was just a matter of, we were giving up some runs too.”
With Jaden Jones in the circle, the Nationals held on to a 13-10 lead with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Hannah Melum hauled in a line drive at third base and doubled off a runner at first base to turn a game-ending double play that gave Plover the National Title with a 13-10 victory.
“The girls knew what was at stake, and they knew that their Top 5 hitters were just stacked, and that was their two-hitter that was up,” said VanderLoop. “They knew the importance of getting every out at the moment, and when it happened, everybody was jumping up and down.
“It was just a great culmination of a ton of hard work over the years, and even just this year,” he said. “It was a truly great experience.”
Plover 16U team members this season included Ashlyn Chandler, Jenna Eilers, Jenna Hoerter, Jaden Jones, Maddie Kvatek, Hannah Melum, Sami Miller, Erica Pronschinske, Haley Raflik, Alyssa Standifer and Kennedy VanderLoop, and coach VanderLoop said the National Title was really a team effort.
“There were many people that had great performances,” said coach VanderLoop. “We had six or seven people hit home runs, our pitchers were on top of their game, and we played some great defense and made great plays throughout.
“In the Championship, the opposing coach said, ‘I think the two best teams are in the Championship Game,’ and we ended up beating them three out of four times,” he said. “It was a great experience with a great group of girls, and memories that they’ll have for the rest of their life.”