10A Western National tourney set to begin at U.S. Cellular

U.S. Cellular Community Park may be in only its second year of existence, but the complex has already landed a big fish.

The 10A Fast Pitch Western National girls softball tournament will start Wednesday at the facility and run through Saturday.

The 12-team tournament, which features seven squads from California and five more from Oregon, kicks off with pool play games from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on Wednesday and 8 a.m.-noon on Thursday. Double-elimination bracket play runs from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, culminating with the championship finals.

Each team plays two pool-play games and is guaranteed four games overall.

Ticket prices for adults are $5 for a day pass or $16 for four-day tournament passes. Cost for youths and seniors is $4 per day and $12 for tournament passes.

Although small in numbers, the Western National tournament packs plenty of prestige.

"This is the most competitive level of the youngest age group that is sanctioned by the amateur softball association," said Medford Parks and Recreation tournament director Rich Rosenthal. "We knew going in it wasn't a huge tournament in terms of numbers but it's a really important tournament in terms of prestige. This is the first Western National tournament held in Medford, so we're pretty excited."

"There's a potential there to land larger Western National tournaments that would be larger if we do a good job and put on a good tournament," added Rosenthal.

Medford was awarded the 10A Western National in January of 2008 at the ASA regional meeting — four months before the opening of U.S. Cellular Park.

"It was quite a leap of faith by the ASA," said Rosenthal. "This tournament is about the same size every year. We knew it wasn't going to be a big one but it will put us on the map."

The winner of the Western National receives a bid to the USA/ASA national tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn., next month.

Of the five Oregon squads, three are from Southern Oregon.

The Oregon state runner-up Junior Eagles of Eagle Point are joined by the Central Point Comets and Grants Pass Sluggers. The Beaverton Blaze and Eugene Thunder are the other Oregon teams.

The Junior Eagles played 11 games over three days en route to the championship round of the state tournament held over the July 4 weekend. The Eagles dropped a 7-2 decision to the Salem Celts in the title game.

"We are so excited," said Eagle Point coach Kim Ayers on playing in the Western National. "We are mainly looking forward to just competing, especially against the California teams. They're mainly club teams that play year-round."

The Junior Eagles have been playing since January, with the Western National as the primary goal.

"We don't really have any expectations, other than to compete," said Ayers, who said the main strength of her team is pitching depth. "The main thing is the experience these girls will get."

Central Point coach Shelly Gillaspie is also looking forward to getting her team experience against A-level squads.

"I'm really excited to see all these new teams," said Gillaspie. "We're not signed up as an A team, so we're not sure what to expect.

"I'd like to see some good softball and see what the girls learn. They get the chance to learn and see what an A team looks like."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 541-776-4483, or e-mail kgoff@mailtribune.com

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