A group of five Rolla softball players tried out to play in the USSSA All-American tournament in the spring and now they have a chance to represent the Central down in Florida.
The tournament will take place over the span of five days, kicking off on Tuesday, August 1 with pool play. After two days of pool play, bracket play will begin. Teams will fight to play in the Championship game on Saturday, August 5.
The tournament is broke into age groups and Rolla will have representatives in three age groups. Zoey Barr and Bailey Pierce will be playing in the 13-and-under division, but they will not play on the same team. Most of the age groups have each region split into American League and National League teams. Barr will represent the Central on the NL team, while Pierce will be on the AL team. Eva Hollis will be playing on the 10U AL team, while her sister Ella and Abigail Kriete will play for the 9U team. The 9U age division has one team from each region.
All five of these players had similar journeys into this week of games. They each went to tryouts across the Midwest in places like Iowa or Kansas and ran through a series of position specific drills like fielding grounders and flyballs, along with hitting and throwing. Then came the waiting. Ella Hollis, Kriete and Barr were all direct selects, which meant they heard the good news about a week later. Pierce and Eva Hollis, however, had to wait for the selection show about two months later.
Pierce will be the only one of the five players who isn't heading down to this game for the first time. The 13-year-old played for the Central last year and saw some electric play. She was a bit shocked to see just about every pitcher fire in fastballs at 60 mph at 12-years-old, which is about 10-20 mph faster than a lot of pitchers she'd regularly see. She expects to be more comfortable now that she's seen a lot of those players before.
"Really good competition and really good pitching," said Pierce.
The other thing that Pierce knows is how to prepare for the event. The event facilities are massive. The ESPN lot is right next to Disney, where they'll be staying, and they have to navigate around all of the hoopla.
"It's like Busch Stadium times about 12," said Bailey's mom Tracy. Bailey added, "It's huge! We have to get there about an hour early just so you can park, get our stuff and walk all the way to the field. It's insane."
Then you have Barr, who has tried out for the event in the past, but will be playing for the first time this year. After failing to make the team last year, she was excited to make the jump to direct select this year.
"It feels really good, I was just really excited to make is this year," said Barr.
The trio of younger players also have a connection outside of the All-American tournament. The Hollis sisters and Kriete also play together for the Rolla Sliders, coached by Abigail's dad, Brian. He's honored to have so many of his players make their respective teams.
"I was pretty fortunate because some teams are lucky to get one girl from their team, much less three, but it worked out very very well," said the Sliders' coach. "It kind of reflects how we did this year. We had a strong team and did fairly well. We had three first place finishes, two seconds, won a State championship and just won the Show Me State Games this weekend."
Coach Kriete also had the difficult scenario of having two of his players named as direct selects, while the third still had to wait. His key to handling the situation was to focus on softball.
"I tried to not say a whole lot about it," said coach Kriete. "I kind of made a point to kind of announce it to the team, saying, 'this is what's going on with your teammates' and then I dropped it because I didn't want to say anything until the reveal show when I found out whether Eva made it and she did so it worked out great. Then we kind of made a big deal about it."
Most of the players are taking similar approaches to the week of games. Kriete said his three players are going down to play well, but they also realize that they're playing the most elite competition they've ever faced. Most of the girls mentioned just going down and playing their best.
"These three girls are pretty competitive, so I'm sure it's going to be more than going down and having fun," said coach Kriete. "They want to go down and do well and I'm sure they all want to win, but they also understand that they're playing against essentially the best nine-year-olds in the country and in Eva's case it would be the 10-year-olds, so the competition is going to be a lot better than what they're used to."
Barr had a similar sentiment.
"I just wanna play the best I can and not mess up," said Barr with a chuckle.
Pierce has already played in this tournament, so she is looking to learn from last year and take the next step. Last year her team made it to the tournament's semi-final and she's hoping to see a repeat from last year.
"I think I've grown up a lot over the year," said Pierce. "I think I'll be better this time."