By DAVE UTNIK
Stonewall Jackson junior Kirby Jenkins was a member of the first Fire & Ice squad to capture a PONY National championship.
That was six years ago, when Jenkins was pitching for the 12-and-under squad.
The competition is tougher now, but for Jenkins and Fire & Ice the results haven’t changed.
Winning is what they do.
Even with a roster that featured six players young enough to compete at the U14 level, Fire & Ice enjoyed one of its most successful summers in 2003. They won five tournament titles in seven tries, culminating with the 16-&-under PONY National championship last week in Raleigh, N.C.
As usual, Jenkins was right in the middle of the action.
After helping the Stonewall Jackson softball team reach the Group AAA state finals in the spring, Jenkins led Fire & Ice to its fifth national title since 1998. She pitched every inning — teaming with catcher Lauren Hensley to toss a perfect game along the way against the Delaware Storm — as Fire & Ice wrapped up a 45-8 travel season.
”It was the best pitching performance that one coach could ever ask for at a national level,” said Fire & Ice coach Greg Jenkins.
With the team heading from the NSA World Series straight to PONY Nationals, Kirby Jenkins wound up pitching 25 games in 13 days. She compiled 14 shutouts, a 23-2 record and struck out 301 batters, while walking only three.
Three of those shutouts came in the final four games. Fire & Ice routed the Diamond Fever, from Connecticut, 9-0, and the Delaware Magic, 7-0, to reach the semifinals. A 6-1 win over the Fairfax Firebirds sent Fire & Ice to the finals against Pennsylvania’s Leather and Lace and Jenkins shut them out 1-0.
Hensley, a sophomore at Osbourn Park, was behind the plate for every game that Kirby Jenkins pitched. In addition to six extra base hits, she threw out at least one runner at every base during the two season-ending tournaments.
”She set the tone for every game,” Greg Jenkins said.
So did Hylton sophomore Ashley Ahearn, the team’s leadoff batter. Ahearn, who split time between the outfield and designated hitter, went 3 for 4 in the championship game victory over Leather & Lace.
”She started to come on strong at NSAs and continued right through PONYs. With her speed, she’s one of the fastest on the team,” Greg Jenkins said.
Fire & Ice also had speed in left field, where Manassas Park sophomore Ashleigh Robinson spent most of her time. The switch-hitting utility player, who drove in the winning run in last year’s dramatic PONY championship game against the Shamrocks, provided a huge spark at several positions.
”She is one of the best utility players on any team,” Greg Jenkins said. ”She can play just about anywhere and gives 100 percent at all times. She was our starting shortstop on last year’s [14U] championship team but she moved to left field this year to help the team.”
Slick-fielding first baseman Jessie Green has also a big part of two PONY championship teams. She hit a pair of home runs during this year’s competition and came up with several pivotal defensive plays.
”Jessie is our cleanup hitter and she proved why,” Greg Jenkins said. ”Having a bat like her’s in the lineup keeps the game rolling at a high pace.”
After placing fourth at the NSA World Series, Fire & Ice swept through a 154-team field to capture its first 16U PONY title.
”With such a young 16s team, this was remarkable,” Greg Jenkins said. ”These girls showed what it takes — hard work and dedication — to be national champions.”
ROCK ‘N’ FIRE FINISHESin Top 20 at ASA NATIONALS
They’re final game as a 16-& under team ended at 1:45 a.m. with a 6-4 loss in Midland, Texas.
It wasn’t the finale Rock & Ice was looking for, but a 17th place finish out of 118 teams at the prestigious ASA Junior Olympic 16-&-Under National Championships made for a pretty impressive debut at the elite level.
”Our goal was to finish in the top 25 but [after starting 4-0] we’re a little disappointed that we didn’t finish in the top 10,” coach Don Lyddane said. ”We played some good ball against some very good teams and we raised some eyebrows — in a good way — to establish our name on the national level.”
Rock ‘n’ Fire left Texas having earned the respect of the country’s premier travel teams.
They’d already made a name for themselves at the regional level by winning six tournaments, including Disney World’s Pines and Palms Invitational and two 18U competitions.
ASA Nationals offered a different sort of challenge and Rock ‘n’ Fire responded by winning four straight games to reach the round of 32. Osbourn’s Cristi Ecks, in her first summer with Rock ‘n’ Fire after playing for the Shamrocks last year, pitched in all eight games as the Prince William County all-star squad went 6-2.
With the exception of an 11-2 loss to the ninth-place California Desperados, Rock ‘n’ Fire played outstanding softball — earning victories against the top teams from San Diego, Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Nebraska.
With Madison’s Kelly Weber recovering from a broken ankle, Ecks assumed virtually all of the pitching duties. The Osbourn junior hurled four games in a 15-hour span on the final day of competition to propel Rock ‘n’ Fire into a tie for 17th place.
”We are very proud of the way the girls battled game in and game out, especially the way they responded following our ugly showing against the Desperados,” Lyddane said.
After falling into the losers’ bracket, Rock ‘n’ Fire defeated the Valley Breeze, from San Diego, 5-2, on a game-winning two-run homer by Hylton’s Amanda D’Attilio. With that victory, Rock ‘n’ Fire achieved its goal of a top-25 finish, but they weren’t ready to settle for that.
Seven first-inning hits — by Sarah Malene, Sarah Himan, Paige Wakefield, Becky Horesky, D’Attilio, Kat Beauvais and Alyssa Kemmerer — sparked a 4-1 victory over the Lil Saints, from Arizona.
With a chance to move into the top 10, Rock ‘n’ Fire faced the Arizona Sun Cats in a game that began at 11:30 p.m.
Kemmerer, D’Attilio, Malene and Shyla Rider each drove in runs, but the Sun Cats scored four unearned runs to knock Rock ‘n’ Fire out of the tournament with a 6-4 win.
With the third-year program making plans to play at the 18-&-under level next summer, Rock ‘n’ Fire made a quick, but lasting, impression in the 16U field — going 44-6-1 overall.
BURES TO TRY OUTFOR U.S. JUNIOR TEAM
Stonewall Jackson’s Courtney Bures still has another year of high school to play, but the Raiders’ senior is already making plans for her future.
While her dream is to play college ball at UCLA, the 16-year-old shortstop could find herself representing the U.S. first. After playing for the Vienna Shamrocks this week at the ASA 18U Gold National Championships, Bures will attend an invitation-only tryout Tuesday in Salem, Oregon for the Junior Women’s National Team.
Bures, who batted .400 with 5 homers and 25 RBI for the Group AAA state runners-up during the spring, was invited to audition for the national team after attending an open tryout in Harrisburg in May.
USA softball will select 17 players to represent the country at the ISF Junior World Championship in China next month.
The U.S. Junior National team won the gold medal at the Pan American Games in December.
Bures has spent the week leading up to the tryout helping the Shamrocks pursue an ASA title. The team earned a top seed for double elimination play by winning its pool. After opening tournament play with a 2-0 win over High Voltage, from, Texas, the Shamrocks defeated the Firecrackers, 3-2, and the Blazing Angels, 3-1.
Dave Utnik covers softball for the Potomac News and Manassas Journal-Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8051.