Hoquiam 16-U softball team is World Series-bound

After capturing its age group in the State Babe Ruth Softball Tournament earlier this month in Othello, Hoquiam’s 16-U softball team undertook a caravan directly to Meridian, Idaho, for what was presumed to be a four-team regional.

At about 11:30 on the night he arrived, Hoquiam manager Mike Cummings was informed by tournament officials that no other teams would be showing up and that his club would be awarded the regional championship and resulting appearance in the Babe Ruth World Series by default.

“I was not real happy (about the lack of advance notice),” Cummings recalled. “But it worked out OK. We let the girls go to the water park and drove home the next day.”

A lot of uncertainties surround Hoquiam’s return trip in the 16-U Babe Ruth Softball World Series next week in Wilson, N.C. It is assured, however, is that the Hoquiamites will face plenty of competition in this tourney, which begins Aug. 1.

The Hoquiamites are scheduled to leave at 1 p.m. Tuesday from the Hoquiam High School gym. After spending the night in the Sea-Tac area, they are slated to fly to North Carolina on Wednesday morning.

A fund-raising dinner/auction is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at the Hoquiam VFW Hall, with a prime rib dinner featured. Admission is $15.

Hoquiam will be making its second consecutive appearance in the 16-U World Series. Managed by Greg King, Hoquiam tied for seventh in last year’s tourney, going 3-1 in round-robin pool play before bowing out in double-elimination bracket competition.

Four current players — Bailee Bradley, Kayla Hilliard, Ellie Quercia and Katelynn Paladin — are veterans of that team.

Cummings is cautiously optimistic about this year’s prospects.

“They did fairly well last year and I think we’re just as good as last year,” the Hoquiam manager said. “I think we’ve got a shot to go out and do pretty well.”

Despite sweeping its two contests at state, Hoquiam didn’t hit particularly well in that tourney. Improvement in that area will be essential at the World Series, Cummings emphasized.

“Defensively, we’re going to be as good as any team back there,” he said. “We have a middle infield (second baseman Hilliard and shortstop Quercia) that eats balls up. What’s going to be critical for us is hitting. We need to be able to hit the outside pitch and push the ball. If we got out there and hit, we’re going to be tough to beat.”

Bradley, who backed Jessica Madison (no longer in the 16-U age group) in the circle last year, will handle the bulk of the pitching chores.

The opposition Hoquiam will face is something of an unknown quantity. Host Wilson County won last year’s tourney and Fern Creek, Ky., is a traditional power, but Cummings is unfamiliar with most of the tourney entrants.

As evidenced by the two-team Washington State tournament and one-team regionals, the Northwest is not exactly a hotbed of Babe Ruth softball. That form of the game is much more popular in the East and Southeast.

“You go back east and Babe Ruth is so big back there,” Cummings noted.

The Hoquiamites, however, aren’t strangers to rugged competition. Several players started for Hoquiam High School’s state-qualifying softball team. As the VFW Bombers, the World Series team also fared well in ASA, NSA and USSSA invitational tournaments.

Cummings is more worried about the North Carolina heat, a traditional concern for Grays Harbor squads.

“We can play in the heat over here, but it’s not like the heat back there,” he said. “It’s so humid.”

Cummings said he will employ a method he utilized in past World Series appearances. Instead of spending off-hours in air-conditioned motel rooms, the Hoquiam manager said he would attempt to have his players gradually adjust to the weather by having them hang out in tents at the site a few hours prior to each game.

“We tried to get there early and put them in the shade, but in the heat, and try to get them to adjust to the heat and hydrate them,” he said. “We kind of realized when we put them in the heat, they play better.”