By SCOTT JACKSON
Courier sports writer
---- — OTTUMWA – Three days. Seventy-eight games. Twenty-four total hours of youth softball action played on five different diamonds.
To say it was a labor of love putting on the USSSA Eastern Iowa State Youth Softball Tournament was an understatement.
So if you’re going to put in that kind of time, energy and hard work into hosting the tournament, you might as well end things with a championship. Tournament director Robert Greiner got to experience the final satisfactions of both the completion of a busy three days for Ottumwa youth softball competing and hosting tournament action.
Greiner, the tournament director, got to enjoy giving away the final team championship the most last Sunday at the Ottumwa slow pitch softball field. That because Greiner, the head coach, gave the championship trophy to his 14U ‘Bulldogs’ after beating the Baxter ‘Firecrackers.’
The 9-3 triumph was the culmination to an exciting tournament, which included an exciting day of bracket play action. In the end, the spirit of the event was on full display as both the Bulldogs and Firecrackers joined together at home plate for a group picture at home plate in a great show of camaraderie.
“One thing you’ll find out about youth activities is, sure the parents will get into the games, but the teams always get along with each other,” Greiner said. “There’s a lot of great teamwork, there’s never any arguing among the players out on the field and at the end of the game we had 11 girls and they had 11 girls and they wanted to come together to commemorate the moment.”
“It’s a great example of why, if you have a son or a daughter, that getting them involved in youth sports is good thing and it’s something the community needs to get behind.”
The Ottumwa 14U squad captured their second tournament title and extended a red hot summer with a true team concept. A ‘Bulldog’ team that has been playing together since they even started playing organized team sports put together another fantastic run over the past weekend.
The Ottumwa squad blanked the Osky ‘Rebels’ in their opener on last Friday 5-0, downed the Johnson County ‘Jags’ (4-1) and Davenport ‘Falcons’ (4-2) to cap a perfect pool play run Saturday and then dominated two bracket play opponents on ‘championship’ Sunday.
Besides a six-run triumph over the Firecrackers in the title game, Ottumwa also shutout the ‘Slammers of Centerville 6-0. All in all, it was a perfect balance of timely hitting, solid defense and excellent pitching.
“It’s really about the 11 girls I got playing for me,” Greiner said. “They’re a great group of girls. Seven of them I’ve coached now for five years, so they’re a good nucleus of Ottumwa girls. Four of them are going to try out for Ottumwa softball and another three are another year away, but it’s really about that. When we put this team together as parents, it was about the kids and it is still is about the kids. They’re a good group and they make the magic happen out there.”
The entire weekend proved to be about the magical moments young softball players could produce, especially as the tournament drew to its dramatic conclusion. While Ottumwa’s 14U team proved to be the only home team to make it to the finals, there were plenty of cheers echoing all throughout Greater Ottumwa Park on Sunday afternoon during the 10U and 12U championship rounds.
No game in the entire tournament proved to be as thrilling as the game that decided the 12U division between unbeaten Knoxville and upstart Mount Pleasant. The ‘Hot Stix’ lost in pool play to the ‘Panthers’ on Saturday, 9-1, leaving the Henry County squad left with the task of winning three elimination games on Sunday.
After edging the North Des Moines ‘Nitros’ 2-1 in a game where Mount Pleasant threw out the tying run at home late, the ‘Hot Stix’ pulled off a huge stunner by dominating the national tournament-bound Ottumwa ‘Rampage’ 9-2 in the semifinals.
In their rematch with Knoxville, Mount Pleasant seemed to have things wrapped up scoring four runs in the top of the final inning regulation inning. Knoxville, however, rallied from 5-1 down to tie the game on a one-out throwing error before the ‘Hot Stix’ again had to throw a runner out at home to stay alive.
After home Lexie Magnani on a fielding error in the top of the fifth, Knoxville again threatened with the tying and winning runs in scoring position. A call to the bullpen brought on Ghianna Glaha, who rallied from a 3-0 hole strike out the first two batters she faced before getting a game ending ground out back to the pitching circle to finally set off a wild celebration.
“I needed to get those first three pitches to get myself warmed up, I guess,” Glaha said after being chased around Field Five at Ottumwa Park by her enthusiastic teammates in the post-game celebration.
“You just can never say enough about how much earning something like this means to a group of young girls like this,” Hot Stix head coach Jason Smith said. “The main thing I told them going into (Sunday) was to just have fun. Don’t worry about anything else. It was getting a little dicey there at the end, but the girls never gave up and they found a way to win this.”
Mount Pleasant joins the Ottumwa and Knoxville 12U squads who had already qualified for national tournament play in Kansas City in on July 14. Also qualifying for the 10U national tournament was Davenport’s ‘Future Lady Knights,’ who like Mount Pleasant needed some late-game heroics to keep their state title hopes alive on Sunday.
Facing the Albia ‘Dirt Demons’ in the quarterfinals, Davenport entered the late stages trailing 3-2 after a two-run rally by the Monroe County squad. The Future Knights loaded the bases with two outs for Carlie Sammons, daughter of head coach John Sammons.
It was in that moment that Sammons created yet another magical moment by giving his player, a child, some great advice.
“Dad told me I was born for this moment,” Carlie Sammons said.
“I also told her just to have fun up there. I was proud of her no matter what happened,” John Sammons added.
Carlie delivered for her father and her teammates with a bases-clearing triple that proved to be the winning hit. Davenport Assumption parlayed the come-from-behind 5-3 win over Albia into an 11-1 win over the Johnston ‘Dragons’ and a 7-0 shutout against Oskaloosa’s ‘Sweet Heat’ in the 10U championship.
Sammons, whose daughter is one of the top players and whose father is one of the volunteer coaches on the team, talked about the magic of sharing this success with his family.
“I think that’s what youth sports really is all about,” Sammons said. “I can’t tell you what it means to see the smile on all the faces of the parents that made the trip all the way here to Ottumwa this weekend and get to share in this. All the fathers and mothers and daughters are getting to be a part of this together.”
For Greiner, whose own daughter Morgan led the Ottumwa 14U squad over the past weekend with eight hits and five RBI in the tournament, several families coming to town to enjoy the festivities is another key part the state youth softball tournament’s impact. With an eye on continuing to build on a youth sports in the city, and build on the facilities available to all youth activities, events like last weekend’s three full days of youth softball may help Ottumwa find the necessary funding to make those necessary improvements.
“We had to play two diamonds for this tournament at the slow pitch fields that are for adults because we don’t have enough youth softball fields to fit all these games in,” Greiner said. “I heard tremendous response on Ottumwa. People said they enjoyed coming to town. They enjoyed the hotels. They enjoyed the restaurants. I heard no negativity to how Ottumwa and the people in town received the teams, so I think that’s something the city can build off of.
“I don’t know what the long term impact is of this tournament, but I guarantee that the gas stations and the businesses saw an uptick this past weekend.”