Coach proud of his overachievers
Eudora players key to the success of the Phenix and performance in national tournament
Coach Eric Epperson looks at his girls softball team and sees a group of overachievers.
That team, Lawrence Phenix, a collection of 16-and-under area softball players including several from Eudora, recently capped its summer campaign with a trip to a national tournament in Decatur, Ill. and finished 33rd of 80 teams.
Epperson, Eudoran and Phenix head coach, said the team was made up of players from Lawrence, Basehor-Linwood and Eudora. The Eudora contingent comprising juniors Alissa Hamilton, Kayla Moyer, Jacqueline Pyle and sophomore Kelsey Epperson, the team's youngest player.
"All four are great kids," coach Epperson said. "Without them, we wouldn't have been as successful as we were."
Hamilton has been catching for the Phenix for the past six years. She also has been hitting. She hit .290 for the year and placed third in the home run contest at nationals.
"She's our big stick," he said. "She is a really, really good softball player. She's our rock. We couldn't do it without her."
The local coach said Moyer, the Phenix's speedy sparkplug, set the tone offensively for the team. She was the team's only lefty and hit .352.
"The team goes as she goes," he said. "She has a good knack for getting a bat on the ball. She gets better every year."
Pyle is a Phenix rookie.
"She stepped in and did a tremendous job for us," Eric Epperson said. "She's a hard worker and is only going to get better."
Kelsey Epperson played primarily at shortstop and third base but also worked as the team's backup pitcher and catcher. The utility specialist had an on-base percentage of .427.
"I love playing for the team," Kelsey said. "It takes up a lot of time in the summer, but I wouldn't want to do anything else."
The Phenix spells its name differently from the mythical bird, but it is still appropriate to parallel the experiences of the team with the legend. And it seems, according to Coach Epperson, that the Phenix was rising from the ashes, too.
This was the team's first year to play A-ball. The team responded to the challenge, posting a 34-13 record, winning a pair of national qualifiers in the process.
They played league ball in Johnson County, playing tournaments on the weekends.
Although the showing at nationals was short of the team's midseason goal, it was well beyond its pre-season expectations.
"If you would have told me that we would go 34-13 in our first year of A-ball, I probably would have laughed," Eric Epperson said.
"I thought we would maybe finish with a .500 record. The girls totally overachieved and excelled. They may not be the most talented, but the way they play the game as a team is tremendous."
And they learned something about overcoming adversity .
During the national tournament, the team stayed 40 miles from Decatur in Springfield. En route to one of the games, two of the Basehor-Linwood players were involved in a car accident. The team was forced to start the game with just two outfielders. With the help of a passerby, one of the Basehor girls arrived at the game, but the other was hospitalized with an injury.
"Obviously that game we weren't all that focused," Kelsey Epperson said.
Despite the Decatur disaster, the team finished a respectable 33rd at nationals.
"Some of the best girls in the country were there," Eric Epperson said. "We were just overpowered in certain games. We almost felt like it was a huge deal just to be there."
And it was. The tournament's 80 teams hailed from more than 30 states and Canada.
"We played our hardest and our best," Kelsey said. "It was real fun and neat just to be there."
The coach hopes that his Phenix, after being burned in Decatur, will be reborn stronger and more experienced for next year.
"It was a good building block," Eric Epperson said. "It is a real eye-opener. It lets the team know how hard it has to work."
"My goal as a coach is always to teach first," he said. "We need to teach skills and understanding of the game. That's why I'm in coaching. It's the most important thing."