Up from the ashes
Two local residents head to nationals with Phenix softball team
The Lawrence Phenix rose to the occasion of the national tournament and landed a fifth-place finish out of 48 teams.
Eudora residents Kelsey Epperson and Alissa Hamilton played key roles for the 14 and under Phenix during the fast pitch national finals at the Johnson County Girls Athletic Association field in Shawnee. The Phenix placed first in the JCGAA league 14 and under division with a 47-13 record en route to their national qualifier.
The team started the national tournament by winning six straight games, beating the Texas Blaze, the Washington State Destroyers, Topeka Crunch, Ohio Coca-Cola, Illinois Cobras and the Illinois Crunch. In their final two games, the Phenix were eliminated when they lost games against two different Texas teams, the Fire and the Bomb Squad.
Epperson, 13, a third baseman, was pleased with the team's overall performance in the national tournament and 6-2 finish.
"It is really cool to be the number five team in the nation," Epperson said. "We made it until Saturday while most of the teams stopped playing on Friday."
With experience going all the way back to her T-ball days, Epperson said that a certain degree of dedication is needed to play for a competitive team such as the Phenix. Both Epperson and Hamilton joined the Lawrence Girls Fast Pitch Association three years ago as a means of playing in a more competitive league.
"I used to play Eudora recreation ball but this is more competitive and it made me improve," Epperson said. "My confidence has gone up a lot over the past three years."
Epperson, who also plays basketball and volleyball, will be an eighth grader at Eudora Middle School. Last season, she served as team manager for Cara Kimberlin's Eudora High School varsity softball team.
"I hope to play for EHS," Epperson said. "It was a good experience to meet all the girls and kind of know how the team works."
Hamilton, 14, a catcher, will likely find out what it is like to be part of the EHS softball team before Epperson does. Hamilton, who will enter the halls of EHS as a freshman this fall, feels she gained some valuable experience playing for the Phenix.
"I like playing catcher because I get to be on every play," Hamilton said. "I would like to play for the varsity team at EHS. I also play basketball and volleyball."
EHS Softball Coach Cara Kimberlin is excited about the prospect of having both Epperson and Hamilton on her roster in the near future.
"Alissa is probably somebody who can step up and play varsity right off the bat with her experience in catching and Kelsey is a wonderful kid who works hard," Kimberlin said. "Both of these girls are good athletes, very coachable and also good students. With their summer league play, they have put the time and the effort they need to play the game."
As the only two non-Lawrence players on the Phenix, Epperson and Hamilton often are the subject of some good natured ribbing. However, they have become close friends with their teammates and even taken a leadership role within the group.
"All of the girls on the team are really good friends now," Epperson said. "We're pretty much leaders on our team and I think it will help a lot when we get to high school.