Twenty years ago, softball teams in the northeast struggled to keep up with the competition in the softball mecca of the southern United States. Teams in the colder-weather climates were limited with training facilities and shorter softball seasons which hindered their ability to compete at a world class level.
In 1999, when Roy Godard launched TNT (Tuff ‘n’ Tuffer) Softball in Pennsylvania, he saw an opportunity to grow the level of competition in the northeast and change the training landscape for the sport. Godard challenged his teams to commit to a travel schedule that would take them to the top-level competition in the nation and worked to create new opportunities in the northeast such as indoor training facilities and local tournaments. Godard launched tournaments on the east coast, to showcase the athlete skills and increase the level of competition in the area.
When you talk to Audrey Lowry, you quickly realize she doesn’t just love softball, but she is a student of the game. Incredibly focused, detail oriented, and the rare kind of player who doesn’t only rely on her physical gifts but thinks through what she wants to do on the mound. And in case you haven’t been paying attention – her focused dedication is paying off in a big way.
The Beverly Bandits Conroy 16U team is off to a sizzling start. After coming in 3rd in PGF Nationals this summer, the Bandits have won both fall tournaments (PGF King of the Hill and the PGF Labor Day Tournament) on their way to a 15-0 start. They have outscored their opponents by a whopping 102-11 in those games.
Charlie Ray’s Atlanta Premier 06 team won’t be mistaken for the 1927 Yankees, but they can sure beat you in a variety of ways.
“We’re quick and small with some power,” said Ray, who plans to coach this team all the way through its 18U years. “We can steal bases top to bottom. We don’t hit a lot of home runs, but we dent the fence pretty good.”
Despite not hitting a ton of long balls, the team’s offense can look like poetry in motion when it’s clicking on all cylinders.
When Chad Warne and Pat Racanelli observed how the travel organization their daughters played for operated, they felt important pieces were missing.
“Call it arrogance or what have you, I just felt like we could do it better,” Racanelli says.
The two began discussing programs and resources they wished the organization offered to help their daughters grow into well-rounded individuals and get recruited to play college softball. Soon they founded Prodigy Fastpitch, a faith-based organization that helps players develop their skills, navigate the recruiting process and grow as individuals.
Carolina Elite produces top-notch softball players through rigorous coaching and relentless networking. Tony Genovese coached the first 14U team in 2007. Soon after that he brought Dana Fusetti on board. The organization has grown from there, now with teams from 8U through 23U.
Fusetti believes the organization’s greatest strength is the connections that she and coaches Genovese and Shaun Gleason have with college programs.
“We work really well together from a coaching standpoint to help get kids recruited. If a Carolina Elite coach has a player on their team that wants to go to a particular school, and that coach does not have a relationship with one of the coaches from that program, he can reach out to Tony and me. It’s not a competition by any means. We have the same goal: get the kids recruited,” Fusetti says.
Jaysoni (Jay) Beachum comes through for her team in the biggest moments, whether a big hit is needed or a game changing play in the field.
The 16-year-old class of 2023 talent plays for the U18 Mojo Danley squad and is one of the best players in her class – ranking as the #6 corner infielder and 49th overall player on Fastpitch and 12th ranked player on Extra.
Beachum is a complete player – swinging a big bat, while being a smooth fielder and possessing an upbeat personality off-the-field that teammates gravitate towards. Her number 24 has a special meaning. It was her grandmother’s number when she played softball and as Beachum explains, “she sounds like she was the real deal from back in the day.”
Ruthless knows how to rise above any challenges that are thrown their way. While adversity occurs both on and off the field, Ruthless athletes learn to meet the challenge head on.
The Ruthless logo, a Phoenix, demonstrates the organization’s strength and resilience to overcome. The logo predominantly displayed within the Ruthless organization, was created and designed by Crystl Bustos herself, a three-time Olympian, two-time Gold medalist, and Olympic home run record leader.
Ruthless Softball launched in 2013 as a local training facility and a 10U team. Now with nearly 35 teams spanning the nation from California to the Midwest and all the way to the east coast, Ruthless fields teams from 8U to 18U with national teams competing at the 14U, 16U, and 18U levels.
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Editors Note: *National Pro Fastpitch announced the suspension of league operations Aug 1, 2021.
JB Slimp began the Texas Blaze softball club program in 2003 with a 14U team his oldest daughter was on.
“Like a lot of dads, I had been coaching her in all sports,” Slimp said. “We had a team in 2003 and at that time, my vision was to create a great atmosphere for these kids to get better and be a competitive team in our area.”
That mission was accomplished. The team began having more success and with each passing year, Slimp became passionate and informed about the recruiting process for softball players hoping to play at the college level.
Sorcerer Bigley-Everett played well in many top tournaments this year, but coach Ryan Bigley says that without a doubt the highlight of the summer was the team’s third-place finish in PGF‘s 14U Premier Bracket A.
“It was just good ball. All the girls were in a good space mentally. I think we did a decent job of getting the girls not only physically prepared but mentally prepared as well, believing in themselves and keeping it even keel,” Bigley says. “Keeping them in the moment was key for us and special stuff happening in special moments.”
The deep run at PGF was the culmination of a season where the team had to learn to overcome adversity. The team suffered a blow when Emma Misasi suffered an injury at Triple Crown Nationals.
Teams across the country are familiar with the chaos and exhaustion that comes from traveling during the summer, playing in tournaments from coast to coast. However, this past season Hotshots Esparza took the grind to the next level.
“This past summer, I kind of put them through a gauntlet,” Coach Charlie Esparza says. “We set out a dramatic summer schedule that took the parents and players on the road for a 43-day tour all over the country.”
The team played in top tournaments, starting with the Top Gun tournament in Kansas City. From there the Hotshots played in Top Club Nationals in Oklahoma, the IDT in Colorado and the TFL Championships in Texas. After finishing near the top in all of these tournaments, they won a national championship at their next stop, the NFA National Championship in Louisiana. The team took a week off before finishing their season at PGF.