Thursday night, two local softball teams played in a league game at Dowhower Softball Complex. While it was the final tune-up for each team prior to the Buffalo Bill Girls Softball Tournament this weekend, the tournament most 16 & Under teams are looking at will begin play July 30.
That’s the starting day for the 2012 Northern National Fastpitch Softball Tournament at Dowhower, a national tournament that already has 29 teams entered, including teams from Colorado, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Kentucky.
So far, there are four North Platte teams with plans to play in the event — the Junior Belles, the Sensations, the Express and the Velocity.
Three of those teams are playing this weekend in the Buffalo Bill tourney.
“It’s the local tournament,” said Junior Belles coach Shelly Byrn.
“We’ll be on the road again next weekend, but you want to play at home when you can.”
The Express and Velocity also will play this weekend at Dowhower, while the Sensations are at a tournament in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
“We are playing in a lot of tournaments against the best competition we can find,” said Sensations manager Al Fugate. “We played four weeks in a row, then took off last weekend.
“It gets to be a grind, so we want to make sure the girls get some breaks over the summer.”
Byrn agreed breaks were needed, but also admitted the girls often missed games over the summer.
“We have 13 girls on the team and most of the time there’s someone who is doing something else and can’t make a game,” Byrn said. “Last week at the final of the Hastings Tournament was the first game we had all 13 players there for a game.”
For Express coach Mark Franzen, he wanted to make sure the players knew what they were getting into.
“We started practicing in January,” Franzen said. “For a lot of these girls, they will go from playing in the national tournament to immediately practicing for the high school season.
“We wanted to make sure the girls knew what they were getting into before we did too much. We wanted to make sure they had the commitment to move forward.”
For Byrn, who enjoys playing in local events, it was making sure the schedule allowed for plenty of breaks, time away for each team member as needed and as many games as the team could handle without it being too many.
“We’re like a family,” Byrn said. “We want the best for all the girls, no matter what, and we want to make sure we play as often as we can to be ready for the quality of the teams we will be seeing in the national tournament.”
Fugate and the Sensations have been playing a lot of events in Colorado and will travel to Rapid City for a tournament in the near future.
“We are trying to play as many different teams as we can,” Fugate said. “Most of these girls practice year-round with us, some three times and some twice a week during the winter.
“Knowing the national tournament is in North Platte, we’re trying to play as many high-quality teams we can.”
For the Junior Belles, it meant adding some tournaments to the schedule.
“We added the World Series event in Kansas City,” Byrn said. “Last year our schedule was done right after the state tournament the second week in July, but the national tournament begins play July 30, so we had to add to our schedule.”
Despite the extra work, tournaments and games, all the coaches say their teams are ready for the challenge.
“It’s a national tournament in your backyard,” Byrn said. “Who wouldn’t want to play in it?”
“We’ve always gone to the state tournaments,” Franzen said. “So, we know what we need to do to make sure we qualify for the national tournament.”
“We try to play the top tournament teams all over,” Fugate said. “So, it’s natural that we would want to have a good showing in a national tournament in North Platte.
“That’s what we play every summer for. To compete with the best.”
Buffalo Bill tournament action begins at 7 p.m. today and 8 a.m. on Saturday morning at Dowhower Softball Complex.
The tournament concludes Sunday.