Comprised mainly of local varsity players from Coconino High and Northland Prep Academy, the Flagstaff Ambush club softball team played in front of a home crowd and for college scouts Saturday at Thorpe Park.
The occasion was Day 1 of the Cool Pines Beat the Heat showcase tournament.
The bulk of the 12-player Ambush 18U roster is made up of Coconino Panthers underclassmen. Two Northland Prep Spartans and Carli Grantham from Williams High School also suit up for Ambush. Despite the mix of backgrounds, they share the goal of playing softball for a college.
“Any time we are playing a tournament like this, it’s two-fold," said Ambush manager Darrin Brown. "The girls get to keep their skill level up, but also, because a lot of these girls want to play in college, these tournaments, sometimes more so than high school, are opportunities for the girls to get noticed by college scouts."
With between an estimated 50 and 60 total teams varying in age divisions playing in Flagstaff this weekend at either Thorpe Park, Foxglenn Park or Continental Park, the town has become a recruiter's treasure chest.
"The scouts are more likely to come to the tournaments because they can watch more girls play at one time," Brown said.
Because many of the Ambush players want to play at the next level, Brown said the team has been competing in more showcases during the club season.
Ambush faced tough competition on Saturday, going 0-3 in pool play to open the 16-team 18U tourney. After falling to the DeMarini Firebirds of Peoria and the Sting out of New Mexico, Ambush finished the day with an afternoon matchup with the Mean Machine, a team based out of Cottonwood.
Playing most of its lengthy club slate on the road, Ambush is getting an opportunity to play in the thin air and in front of family and friends for the second time this summer.
“We play out of town a lot more than we play at home. We have one in June and one in July, and those are the only ones in Flagstaff for the entire year,” said Brown, adding that the team relishes the opportunity to play in town.
Ambush played in June's Cool Country Classic tourney, which like Cool Pines is also governed by 9 Stars Sports. They finished pool play 1-1-1 a month ago and were unable to make it past the first round of bracket play.
Looking to make a deeper run in July, Ambush will face the winner of Pool D Sunday at 9:10 a.m. to get the bracket going.
'THE ELITE IN FLAGSTAFF'
Kaitlyn Snopek, one of nine who joins Ambush from Coconino's ballclub, spent the day in the circle Saturday. As a sophomore, Snopek helped lead Coconino to a 13-6 2017 varsity record and a first-round 4A Conference state tournament appearance.
Currently between their sophomore and junior years, Coconino's Taylor Brown, Ashlyn Hernandez and Sam Seery play alongside Snopek. Providing age and experience to the team are soon-to-be seniors McKenna Gladden and Hallie Chiaverini from Coconino. Spending time working on their games this offseason, Brooke Wong and Maddy Clouse are playing for Ambush this summer before entering their sophomore years at Coconino, and Lexi Bartell comes from Coconino.
Representing Northland Prep Academy, Megan Swinney and Grace Vonesh take the field for Ambush.
As a freshman for the Spartans, Vonesh showed off her swing as one of NPA's offensive leaders, ending the year with a .500 batting average, three triples, and 24 hits and 14 RBIs to go with two homers. Swinney was also a force at the plate during her varsity sophomore year, batting .452 to go with three homers, 24 RBIs and 28 hits.
“These are the elite in Flagstaff,” the skipper said of his players.
Grantham brings to Ambush a .415 junior season that produced 36 RBIs for the Vikings, who had no other pitcher other than Grantham to rely on throughout the entire season. The workhorse pitcher helped her team reach the 1A quarterfinals, where they lost to Joseph City.
The core of Ambush has been together since they were a 12U team, with Brown at the helm during those years.