Community Sports

Softball team travels to Nationals for final season tournament

Amanda Baker, 16, has played with Absolute Blast for two years. She plays first base, pitcher and right field. Her team is competing at the PGF National Championships August 4-8 in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Amanda Baker, 16, has played with Absolute Blast for two years. She plays first base, pitcher and right field. Her team is competing at the PGF National Championships August 4-8 in Huntington Beach, Calif. Coutesy to The Bellingham Herald

The Absolute Blast 16U softball team is competing this week in their last tournament of the season, The Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship, and they aim to have a successful end to their powerhouse season.

Top qualified teams from across the country will compete Aug. 4-8 in Huntington Beach, Calif.

“When we get to that bracket on Tuesday we will have to be playing top of our game,” said Blast coach Clint Rhinehart.

His last three years with the team have been about developing a tough, competitive group. Even if they are down in the game, the girls on the field do not stop playing until it is over, Rhinehart said.

Last week, the team came in thirteenth at the ASA 16U Gold National Championship in Salem, Ore. They had three wins and four losses during the five-day tournament. This week, they want to do better.

“The team has been working really hard to practice and our goal is to win the championship game,” said Jordan Miles, an upcoming Mount Baker junior.

The loss was a learning experience.

“If you have struggles out in the field, you can’t take them to the plate or you’ll miss hits,” Miles said. “If you have struggles at the plate, you can’t take them into the field or you’ll start dropping balls.”

Miles has been with the Blast for the last two years. She started swinging a bat when she started tee-ball at 4 years old and has not taken a year off since. At 16, this is her seventh year playing competitive league fastpitch softball.

“We all laugh that they call it softball,” she said. “There is definitely nothing soft about it.”

The season may be ending, but it was certainly a memorable one.

The team has been together since October. As soon as the school season ended in June, they traveled back-to-back weekends to qualify for ASA and PGF. By the tournament last weekend, the team had played 22 games in 27 days.

“It’s definitely been busy, but it has also been wonderful,” Miles said.

Drew Westford, soon-to-be Ferndale junior, said her favorite tournament was the The Sun Classic Winter Showcase in January at the ESPN Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. Blast played five games that weekend, four wins and one tie.

The teamwork between this group on the field is what wins them games.

“My favorite part is the chemistry we have,” Westford said. “We may not be the best of the best but our work ethic out there on the field gets it done for us.”

Sometimes, Rhinehart worried all the traveling, games and long days would burn out the team. There was no way they could accomplish everything they were being asked to do.

But, the girls pulled through.

From the coaches’ standpoint, being able to share these new experiences with the team is something he will always remember, Rhinehart said. The tournament in Orlando was especially unique because of the location.

“We got to play some really good teams and see that complex up close,” he said. “You walk in and there is the Wide World of Sports globe right there.”

Another favorite was the Colorado Fireworks Tournament at the end of June where the team went 8-1, losing in the last game.

“We win all of our showcase games, and then we go into the bracket and start winning our way through that,” Rhinehart said. “We then stumbled in the last day and lost.”

Amanda Baker has also been a member of the Blast the last two years and the soon-to-be Ferndale junior has seen the team grow a lot over this season. She went to ASA last year and their standings this year were not a good reflection of the season, she said.

“I feel that this year we were a stronger team, but we didn’t play as strong as we could,” Baker said.

Having played on a diamond for as long as she can remember, Absolute Blast is the most competitive team she has been on yet, Baker said. She likes the challenge and if it was an easy game, she probably would not play.

“I just love playing with this team,” Baker said. “I feel like there is actually competition and there is something to actually work for out there on the field.”

This next week of competition may be the last for this particular team, but they plan to go off in style.

“We practiced really hard,” Baker said. “Now we show up to Huntington like our team can really show up to play.”