By DAVE UTNIK
p>Next to her cleats and glove, it might be her most valuable possession from the two weeks she spent in Salem, Oregon.
”I got a game ball and I had everyone sign it,” she said. ”That’s probably the best thing I brought back.”
The Stonewall Jackson senior returned to Haymarket Friday night with several other keepsakes that won’t find their way onto a bedroom shelf. There’s fresh memories of a historic second-place finish at the ASA Gold National Championships, where she batted .421 in nine games for the Virginia Shamrocks, and the confidence she gained from playing softball against the country’s best 17 and 18-year-old athletes.
There’s the thrill of meeting players from the college programs she’d most like to join — UCLA and Arizona — and, perhaps most importantly, there was the opportunity to showcase her abundant talent at a tryout for the U.S. Junior National team.
”It’s a big honor. There were probably only five girls from the east coast there,” Bures said. ”It was cool being out there with the best players in the nation. It was a good experience.”
The all-state high school shortstop was one of 50 players invited to attend the USA Softball tryout that determined who will represent the country at October’s Junior Women’s World Championships in Nanjing, China. The 17-player U.S. roster is expected to be announced on Monday.
”Without a doubt it’s a big deal,” Courtney’s father Mike said. ”There were probably 20 rising seniors invited. The rest were freshmen in college.”
Bures was one of the youngest players to take the field. She turned 17 two months ago, but she more than held her own — especially on defense.
”Courtney’s probably a little smoother in the field than all but one of them,” Mike Bures said.
Her bat isn’t too shabby, either.
Anybody who has faced her at the high school level has known that for years. In Oregon, the rest of the country caught a rare glimpse of the swing that has enabled Stonewall Jackson to reach the Group AAA championship game the past two seasons.
Batting either leadoff or directly behind Gar-Field graduate Kelly Brown in the No. 2 spot, Bures hit helped the Shamrocks reach the finals of the 18U Gold National Championship Tournament for the first time in team history. Their second place finish was the highest ever for a team from the east coast.
”At the time it didn’t feel like we’d done that much because we’d just lost the championship game, but a few days later we were all like, ‘wow, we came in second,”’ Bures said. ”Last year we played two games and were out and we didn’t get to see much, but this year we got to see a lot of the good teams.”
And a lot of good teams got the chance to see Bures.
So did the USA Softball selection committee, which spent three days evaluating players based on skill drills, infield practice and game-situation hitting.
”I didn’t see that much of a difference between the players from California and the players from the east. There are a lot of players from the east coast who are just as good as the girls out there. They just don’t get seen as often,” Bures said. ”It was hard to get into a rhythm hitting because we only got to see each pitcher once, but I think I did OK.
”I just gave it everything I had. Hopefully I caught somebody’s eye,” she continued. ”If not this year, then next year or the year after that.”