Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

SPORTS>>Renegades race to state title

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

First-year softball programs tend to struggle and suffer through growing pains, but don’t expect the Sherwood Renegades to be receiving much sympathy from their veteran foes anytime soon.

In its inaugural season, the Renegades ’96 fast-pitch softball team captured the USSSA state title over the weekend only a week after taking the Arkansas Amateur Softball Association (ASA) state crown. Add a perfect 11-0 season record in league play against primarily 14-U teams, and the picture becomes clearer that this upstart team’s growing pains have pretty much subsided.

It took three games against the Mustangs to capture the championship last Sunday. TheMustangs handed them their first loss in three tournaments during the winner’s bracket finals, but the Renegades bounced back for a 2-1 win in the ‘if’ game. The two teams faced off one final time in the championship game, with the Renegades waiting out a two-hour rain delay, and fighting through extra innings to win 6-3.

Brittany Hubbard provided the key hit in the finals with an RBI double that broke the tie, bringing in the universal runner in the overtime affair.

Renegades coach Rowdy Broadway said the quick road to success is no accident.

“We’ve got a great core of girls,” Broadway said. “They have really learned the meaning of being team players. They have really adjusted to each other. They have put in a lot of hard work and effort. If I called a practice tomorrow at 5 … all 12 of them would be there.”

The Renegades began tournament play with a 6-3 win over Nonstop. Ashley Broadway’s two-run double was the offensive spark, and was backed by Michelle Sorenson’s 8-strikeout performance.

Sorenson is one of three hurlers for the Renegades, along with Whitney Jarvis and Jeana Canady. The infield includes first baseman Allie Clark, second baseman Logan Stevenson, shortstop Jordie Flippo and third baseman Kaylie Roberts. Brittany Hubbard and Breanna Sanders share time as catcher for the Renegades, and Hannah Shaw, Courtney Douglass and Broadway make up the outfield.

Strong defense was a theme for the Renegades throughout the 16-team tournament. The second-round game against the River Valley Rippers also came down to clutch pitching, as Sorenson struck out the final two batters of the game with the tying run at second base in a 3-2 Renegade win.

That put them in the semifinals against Bryant Express. The Express rallied for two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, but came up a run short as the Renegades advanced to the winner’s bracket finals with a 4-3 win.

Their overall record for the season stands at 29-16, with many of those losses coming in early tournament play. The Renegades managed a number of second and third-place finishes in their first weeks of existence before their breakthrough tourney win at the ASA regionals in Maumelle on June 13 and 14.

That qualified them for ASA state in Bentonville during the final weekend of June, which they eventually claimed for their first state crown. From the start of the ASA regional, in fact, the Renegades have amassed a 23-1 record through three tournaments and league play.

Broadway said his practices are strenuous, but have paid big dividends so far.

“We spend a lot of time on real-life scenarios,” Broadway said. “We don’t do a lot of the simple hit and throw drills. We will set up base runners and designate a certain number of outs, and see how they play through the situation to know what corrections we need to make.

“The last three weeks, we have done a lot of batting drills with a machine and wiffle balls, with the ball on a rope, and with a machine and baseballs to let them hit balls at a higher speed for hand-eye coordination.”

The Renegades will be in tournament play this weekend at the Sherwood Sports Complex in a memorial scholarship fundraising tournament, and will take the rest of July and the entire month of August off before returning to action in September.