Softball: It takes a village

Auburn teams, families spread out at division tournaments all over Northern California
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Shelly Hansen wasn’t exactly sure where her 13-year-old daughter Claire would be staying this weekend or how she’d get to her Little League Softball Division Tournament game in Chico on Sunday. Hansen will be busy managing the Auburn Little League Major All-Stars at their own division tournament in American Canyon this weekend. For softball players and parents it’s a thrilling, but hectic few weeks as the postseason heats up. “I’m not sure where I’m going to put (Claire), but we know she’ll get taken care of wherever she goes,” Hansen said. “It’s crazy, but because of the closeness we have with all the parents, it makes it easy.” Auburn Little League softball parents have the airlines on speed dial and an extra suitcase packed this summer, knowing they could be headed out of state at a moment’s notice if their child’s team strings together a few wins. Should the Auburn Juniors win the division tourney, they would head to the regional tournament in Tucson, Ariz. The Auburn Majors are three wins away from a trip to Vancouver, Wash. Auburn’s underdog 9-10 All-Stars stunned West Sacramento on Tuesday night and are now in Eureka at their division tournament. The Auburn Juniors are a confident bunch after scoring 32 runs in a two-game sweep of Rio Linda to win the Section 4 championship last weekend. They fell behind early in both games, but put together huge offensive outbursts to earn what will be the group’s third straight trip to the divisional tournament. “We were stoked,” said Kassidy Kosmata, who plays second base. “Our bats just came alive.” The junior squad will face the Stockton All-Stars at 12:45 p.m. Sunday to open the divisional tournament. Dixon and Paradise are also at the tournament, which could last through next Thursday. Auburn’s ace pitcher Sadie Stroup is the only player on the team who will not attend Placer High next season. She is headed to Foresthill. Most of the rest of the team will play on Placer’s junior varsity squad. “We knew we had a good team when the season started,” Kosmata added. “We’re excited about playing JV next year.” Nearly all of the Auburn All-Stars play on various Auburn Storm club teams. The Storm plays in tournaments throughout the summer, including several during the month-long layoff between the Little League Tournament of Champions in mid-June and the All-Star season in late July. “With the Storm they’re playing tournaments almost every weekend, so that helps them stay sharp,” Junior All-Star manager Fred Hill said. “About a third of the team has been playing softball since February, starting with their high school team.” Auburn is the only Little League Softball program in Placer County and one of just a handful in the Sacramento region. The absence of area and district tournaments means the Auburn clubs are thrown into high-level competition from the first pitch of the postseason. “Playing with the storm has given them that tournament experience they need,” Hansen said. “A lot of the success has to do with the girls playing together for a while and playing with the Storm helps take it to the next level.” The Major All-Stars will face Gilroy today at 5:30 p.m. in American Canyon — between Napa and Vallejo. In their run to the Section 4 crown, pitchers Kaelin Amerin, Amanda Geil and Katie Urban were superb while the offense was a balanced effort. “It was a team effort,” Hansen said. “Everyone was hitting. Everyone played strong defense and everyone really contributed. Pitching’s been one of our problems in the past, but this year we’re fortunate to have three really good ones.” The Auburn 9-10 All-Stars are the Cinderella story of the bunch. They weren’t expected to contend for the section title, but caught fire after a loss last Friday and won four straight games to advance to the division tournament in Eureka. Manager Dan Geil had to leave town on business and missed the deciding game Tuesday night. Boosted by a throng of fans who traveled to Rancho Murieta for the game, the Auburn team stunned West Sacramento to win. “That was huge,” Hansen said of the 9-10s’ victory. “Some of the girls on that team were playing AAA earlier this year where they have a coach pitch and a lot of times those girls have no clue how to steal bases or slide at the beginning of the year. It’s been really exciting to watch them.” The Auburn softball community has rallied together to help fuel what has already been the most successful postseason run in the program’s history. And there could be more winning — and traveling — to come. “It’s nice to know we’re representing Auburn and winning games,” said Claire Hansen, a catcher on the Junior All-Star team. “It’s the highlight of our summer.”