PLANO — With a chance at perfection hanging in the balance, EXCEL Elite Williams left no doubt during the final day of the USA Softball GOLD National Championships.
The Texas-wide club softball team punctuated an undefeated run through nationals on Saturday night at Heritage Yards, hoisting the event’s 18-and-under championship following an 11-1 rout of fellow stateside program Texas Blaze 18U Elite Lindsey.
“It means everything. These kids put in all this work,” said Shannon Williams, EXCEL head coach. “You’ve got butterflies this whole time and you’re always on edge, so for them to come out and play like they did is amazing.”
The team subdued any nerves over six days of action in Plano, posting a 9-0 record and saving its best for last — outscoring Saturday’s semifinal and championship opponents by a combined margin of 26-3. After erupting for nine runs in the sixth inning of a 15-2 run-rule semifinal win over San Antonio club Test Softball, EXCEL kept firing away with eight unanswered runs to begin its championship bout with Blaze.
EXCEL put its first eight batters on base during a first inning that produced six runs on six hits — setting the tone for a 15-hit night that saw the victors capitalize on a Blaze team playing its fourth game of the day.
“It’s easier when you come through the top of the bracket and get a team like this that had to play four games,” Williams said. “It probably helped us some and I’m sure they were a little tired, plus we were seeing the ball well both of the last two games, which helped a lot.”
EXCEL’s win meant a national championship won by several Dallas-area softball standouts, with Lovejoy senior Leah Taylor and alum Rebecca Holiman, McKinney Boyd senior Anissa Lechner and Coppell alum Nora Rodriguez among the locals rostered by the 18U champs.
Lechner and Taylor each drew starts for EXCEL, chipping in one RBI apiece during the championship win, while Rodriguez closed up the victory by pitching the fifth inning in relief. The locals had plenty of help as well, with EXCEL showcasing its power game with 13 home runs clubbed over nine tournament games — including five bombs from Killeen Harker Heights product Jalynn Swiney and four from Rockwall-Heath’s Tristin Court.
In additional to Blaze and Test Softball, EXCEL picked up wins over KC Peppers Gold (6-2), Sneaky Cleats (7-2), Carolina Cardinals (5-1), Texas Bombers DFW Gold (15-2), EXCEL Elite Gold Menefee (5-3), Blaze (5-4) and Top Gun Academy 18 (4-3) — besting club teams both stateside and beyond.
“The competition was probably the best that we’ve seen all summer,” Williams said. “Just the way the tournament was run, it’s the best that we’ve been involved in.”
Among those left in EXCEL’s wake were fellow local clubs EXCEL Elite Gold Menefee and Texas Bombers DFW Gold. Menefee’s club includes Plano Senior junior Darby Hickey and alum Cora Hickey and Flower Mound Marcus alum Haley Herzig and juniors Emma Adair and Abigail Kubin. Overall, the club posted a 2-4 record and tied for 17th place at nationals.
Texas Bombers, which features Argyle alum Ainsley Cindric, Lovejoy alum Celeste Soliz, Plano East alum Ashley Simmons and Plano West senior Morgan Luster, was saddled with matchups not only against 18U champ EXCEL, but third-place finisher Test Softball, and fell short of picking up a win in four games played at the tournament.
Beyond EXCEL, the only other Metroplex program to crack the 18U bracket’s top 10 was Texas Rapid Fire Gold, which includes Hebron alum Audrey Faulks. Rapid Fire tallied a 3-4 record and tied for ninth place overall after falling one win shy of the winner’s bracket quarterfinals.
Rapid Fire began bracket play with a victory over Texas Glory ’02, which rebounded to win three of its final four games and go 6-2 overall at the tournament — good for a 13th-place finish. Glory’s nationals-bound club includes a pair of Frisco ISD standouts in Wakeland senior Ashton Bryce and Frisco senior Kylie Green.
Elsewhere in 18U play, Texas Fusion 18U Gold, which rosters Lake Dallas senior Aubrey Meyers and McKinney Boyd alum Jordan Salmon, broke even at 3-3 to tie for 17th overall. American Freedom Gold Bryson, sporting Frisco Lone Star senior Grace Holz and Mesquite senior Madi Hayes, tallied a 2-3 mark and took 25th overall, while Texas Blaze Snodgrass, featuring Celina senior Alexis Ginegaw, Coppell senior Chloe Barker and Lewisville senior Mia Gutierrez, managed only one win in four tries en route to a 33rd-place finish.
Oklahoma captures 16U title
While EXCEL staked its claim as the top 18U club at nationals, Oklahoma-based Tulsa Elite OKC 16U Walde was polishing off its own undefeated run through bracket play — a run that concluded Saturday in come-from-behind fashion in a 9-5 victory over the Wichita Mustangs.
Tulsa Elite shook off a 5-3 deficit through five innings by scoring six unanswered runs over the final two frames to complete a 6-0 surge through the 16U bracket. Overall, the club finished 8-1 at nationals, with its lone setback coming in pool play to Metroplex foe Texas Fusion 16U Gold, 5-4. Fusion, which includes Coppell sophomore Adrianna Erichsen and McKinney North junior Caroline Leos, managed a four-game stay in bracket action and went 4-3 overall at nationals to tie for 13th place.
Matching Fusion in the final standings was DFW Firecrackers 16U Gold, which features Coppell junior Emily Broome and went went 4-3 as well. They were one of two programs representing the DFW Firecrackers organization in the 16U bracket, with DFW Firecrackers-Smith also in action. Rostering Mesquite sophomore Jazelle Hernandez, Smith’s club failed to procure a win in five tournament matchups.