With an ASA 14-and-under state championship on its resum/, the Reckless softball team — based out of Blanket — will embark on a trip to Gadsden, Ala. to challenge the nation’s elite at the ASA Class B Southern Nationals.
Pool play begins Thursday with bracket play slated to get under way Friday. Approximately 20 teams are lined up to battle for the national championship.
Reckless — which includes girls from Brownwood, Early, Comanche, Coleman and Goldthwaite — went undefeated at the 22-team state tournament in Nacogdoches in late June, outscoring its six opponents a combined 50-3 to secure a nationals berth. The first and second place teams from the state tournament received automatic bids to Alabama and were allowed to bypass the regional tournament.
Qualifying for the ASA Nationals is one thing, but competing is a whole different story due to travel expenses. With recent national tournaments being held in places such as Washington and Illinois, local teams that have previously earned the right to compete have opted to pass.
Being state champions this year, the decision was easy for the Reckless to pack up and head east.
“We’ve qualified for the last three years, but we feel like we’re representing the state this year,” said Joan Atchley, who along with husband Charles, Joe Zarate and Cody Norris serve as the team’s coaches.
Most of the team — which consists of Kate Atchley, Madison Berry, Morgan Birrell, Daniela Castillo, Amanda Gober, Julia Loudermilk, Rynn Norris, Kish Suniga, Shandi Winstead and Carissa Zarate — has ASA Nationals experience.
For some members of Reckless, their most recent nationals exposure has been at the College Station tournament held a few years back. But a handful of team members will be headed to their second straight ASA Nationals. As members of the Brownwood Heat 12-and-under squad, Berry, Birrell, Castillo, Suniga and Winstead made the relatively short trek to Midland last year for the 46-team national tournament.
After falling short in their bid to win the national title last year, they are anxious to take another crack at the top prize later this week.
“We’re gonna to bring it home,” Castillo said.
Most of the Reckless roster has played both with and against each other for the better part of the last five years. Their familiarity with each other is one of the biggest keys to their success.
“We have a lot of chemistry together,” Winstead said.
Added Atchley, “Charles and I have been coaching these girls on and off since they were in 10-and-under. Next year we’ll be moving to 16. We have core groups of girls. Some years we’re playing with the older girls and some years we’re playing with who we call our younglings. It’s neat and a lot of fun. I think all these girls just love to play and that’s the big thing.”
Not only are national bragging rights at stake, but the tournament presents a chance for many of these girls to both showcase and hone their talents. With aspirations of playing college softball, competing in one of the premier tournaments in the country — which includes an audience of collegiate coaches and scouts — presents a unique opportunity to make a lasting impression.
“It’s a really good experience we can use for the rest of our lives because we’re playing against the highest level,” said Kate Atchley. “This gets you ready for playing at the next level.”
Reckless members like their chances of coming home with some hardware due to the balance of this year’s squad. Loudermilk, Castillo and Atchley are the three veteran pitchers and they have been backed by a steady defense that includes Berry, Zarate and Suniga in the infield, Gober and Birrell sharing time behind the plate and Winstead and Norris in the outfield.
Offense has been a strength as well with an average 8.3 runs per state tournament game serving as plenty of proof.
“At the state tournament, we only had four errors in six games and we scored a lot of runs. We really are pretty strong from top to bottom,” Joan Atchley said.
Added Kate Atchley, “I think this has been the strongest we’ve ever been. There’s no holes in our defense and our batting order is strong all the way down. We know if we make an error, the team will pick us up.”
Reckless has displayed those characteristics since practices began in February. Along with a state championship, Reckless won the 12-team Leon River Classic in Temple and had runner-up efforts at the 16-team Sunrise Optimist Jump into Spring Tournament in Wichita Falls and the 28-team 8-Game Classic in Midland. Reckless also placed fifth out of 22 teams in the San Marcos Spring Classic.
Though they may not be considered the flashiest team headed to Alabama, members of Reckless feel their work ethic is what will set them apart from the rest of the competition.
“The way I look at it, we don’t care how we look,” Joan Atchley said. “Our name is a little bit strange. People look at us and think, ‘Reckless?’ A lot of teams come with matching bats, bags and helmets, but everybody on our team has their own bats and helmets and we just show up and play. They really impress people because they look at us and think, ‘Oh, they’re not going to be very good.’ But the girls play hard and it seems like we leave everything on the field. We give it all we’ve got.”
Added Winstead, “They think we’re hillbillies, but our name fits us.”