Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Softball: Storm’s a brewing at nationals

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Photo Courtesy of Jim Kibbe
The 18-under MVSA Storm won the Summer Sizzler last weekend in Shippensburg, Pa. The team includes, front row, left to right: Susan Miller, Rachel Miller, Becca Jacobs, Amanda Kibbe, Kelly Morrow, Paula Hand; middle row: Kathy Holonich, Becca Kirshner, Ellen Smith, Courtni Williams, Katelyn Kumm; back row: Michael Miller, David Jacobs, Jim Kibbe, Henry Kumm.
As the old adage goes, save the best for last.

That’s exactly what the Montgomery Village Sports Association Storm 18-under fastpitch softball team coached by David Jacobs has done. After subpar results this summer season, at least according to the team’s high standards, the Storm went 5-1 to clinch its only outright championship of the season finishing first out of 30 teams at the Summer Sizzler tournament in Shippensburg, Pa., which concluded Sunday.

The Storm were named co-champions at their first tournament, the Pony Thunder in Hagerstown, the first weekend in June. Since then the Storm, which has played nine tournaments, has racked up just two top-three finishes (both third place).

But, the team’s finally playing to its potential. And right on time, as it’ll travel to the summer’s biggest event next week, the PONY Nationals in Youngstown, Ohio from July 30-Aug. 5. Teams earn bids to national tournaments by playing in qualifiers. The Storm earned its bid to PONY Nationals at the Hagerstown tournament.

‘‘I think we’re playing our best now, after this weekend,” Jacobs said. ‘‘We kind of just put everything together.”

The Storm finished tied for 17th at last year’s PONY national tournament, which featured more than 100 of the country’s top teams. The goal this year is to reach the Sweet 16 — it was one game away in 2006. And that’s a legitimate goal considering the team’s talent.

The Storm has relied on solid defense, led by former Watkins Mill High standout Becca Jacobs, who’s getting ready to start her sophomore season at NCAA Division II Shepherd (W.Va.) College and went 4-1 inside the pitching circle at Shippensburg to earn the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award. Another top pitcher for the team is former Einstein star Susan Miller (University of Pennsylvania), who also notched a win over the weekend.

A solid infield backs Jacobs and Miller, featuring recent high-school graduates Ellen Smith (Damascus), Amanda Kibbe (Gaithersburg), who’ll play at Millersville (Pa.) University next year, and Katelyn Kumm (Churchill), set to play at Division II West Liberty State (W.Va.) and rising Gaithersburg High senior shortstop Becca Kirshner. Sherwood High rising seniors Kelly Morrow and Kathy Holonich are standouts in the outfield.

What made the difference this past weekend and what the Storm will look to at nationals, is its much-improved offense. Led by Jacobs’ Shepherd teammate Courtney Williams, who went 4 for 4 with four runs scored in the team’s 9-1 win over the Maryland Stars in Sunday’s championship game, Smith (3-4), Kibbe (2-4), Jacobs (2-4) and catcher Rachel Miller (2-3), the Storm exploded on offense with 16 hits.

It was their offense that pulled them out of some trouble at the Summer Sizzler — they trailed 4-1 heading into the final inning of their 5-4 semifinal win over the New Jersey Jaguars. And knowing they can come back from deficits will surely pay off at nationals.

The Storm has reached the Sweet 16 at a national tournament just once in the program’s history. But if it can continue playing the way it did in Shippensburg and lean on the confidence gained with that result, 2007 might be the second time.

‘‘The hitting has really picked up recently,” David Jacobs said. ‘‘They were just clobbering the ball. ... This is a gutsy team. They have the fire to get [to the Sweet 16]. They’re fighters.”