When the season began, coach Pat Smith wasn’t sure what kind of a girls fastpitch team he was going to have.
“At 10U, it basically is a tryout – it’s all new girls,” said Smith, who coaches that age group for the Auburn-based Acers fastpitch club.
Mostly all new, anyway. With just a handful of players from last season and a crop of new ones, it turned out to be a successful blend. Last week, the Acers completed a six-game sweep to win the National Softball Association Western World Series for the 10-and-under age bracket at Gardnerville, Nev.
“We got better and got better, and we said, ‘Maybe these girls have a chance,’ ” Smith said of his mindset as the season progressed “We won state, and I thought, ‘That’s a great accomplishment.’
“The next step was nationals, and we didn’t have any expectations other than having fun.”
Thing did take a turn for the dramatic in the title game, though. A 6-2 lead against the East County Hot Shots of Oakley, Calif., vanished in the top of the seventh inning. But in the bottom of the eighth with the score still tied at 6-6, Delaney Nelson delivered a bases-loaded hit up the middle that scored Kendall Goodwin with the winning run.
“Delaney pitched seven innings of great ball (in the final), Katie Habryle had some timely power hitting, Anna Olson had some timely power hitting,” Smith said. “But we win and lose as a team. We don’t rely on one pitcher. We have Delaney and Kayla Smith and Kendall Goodwin. “We have 10 players, and every one of them batted, and every one of them did something that mattered during the entire season.”
The six-game Western World Series sweep gave the Acers a season record of 53-2, which also included winning the state tournament, along with seven other tournament titles. (They placed second in the two tournaments they didn’t win.) In Nevada, the Acers outscored their opponents through six games, 47-15.
And earlier this week, they moved up to the No. 1 spot in the current NSA national rankings for 10U teams.
“We are absolutely floored,” Smith said, at the same time acknowledging that other teams which still might be playing tournaments could pick up enough poll points to move past the Acers.
But final scores, tournament titles and polls are a by-product for Smith, who last year was an assistant coach for the 10U team that won the USSSA state championship.
“We ran things a little differently than a lot of programs do,” he said. “We batted our lineup every game, no matter the situation. We flipped our infield and outfield, no matter the situation.
“The only way to get better is to play. Sitting on the bench won’t work.”
Smith had not only his own coaches with whom to work, but said the Acers made available coaches from the club’s older teams – 14U, 16U and 18U – to lend a hand.
Gradually, it all melded together.
“We decided we weren’t going to change anything,” Smith said of his everyone-plays approach. “We drove down there … and swept the whole thing. Unbelievable.”