Thunderbirds U16s turn up the heat
While many know all about American Legion and Connie Mack summer baseball, it is important to realize that the ladies are hard at work, too. The Thunderbirds, a U16 softball club out of Harleysville, has not only been playing and improving, but winning tournaments as well.
The Thunderbirds, composed of high school players from Souderton, North Penn, Pennridge, Lansdale Catholic, Boyertown and Downingtown East, have already won three of the six tournaments they have played in this summer. After being crowned champion at the U18 USSSA Line Drive Challenge, U18 USSSA June Jamboree and U16 PONv National nualifer, coach Ken Shanks is excited about his club’s progress.
“We played 29 tournament games in June, that’s a lot,” Shanks said. “But what I think is most impressive if that we had a 23-6 record in June. That’s a good record for any team, especially wKHQ wH DUH SODyLQJ fiYH RU VL[ JDPHV in a week. We are playing really well DQG ,’P FRQfiGHQW KHDGLQJ LQWR WKH UHVW of the summer.”
The girls are having all of this success due to their contributions DW EDW DQG LQ WKH fiHOG. WLWK D OHWKDO combination of power at the plate and speed on the base paths led by sisters Paige and Dayna Shelly, as well as a solid core of pitchers and catchers, the Thunderbirds will continue to be formidable through the rest of the summer.
Pitching and defense have been vital to the Thunderbirds’ run. Shanks trots out four different pitchers throughout the course of a tournament, never letting the opposition get a read on any one of them. Erelle Sowers, Mindy Kalil, Devon Barbalace and Sara Huzar have been fantastic for their team and have kept the lineup in games.
“We won’t overpower you with pitching, but each pitcher on our team will give you a different look,” Shanks said. “Some teams in these tournaments do it all with one or two pitchers, but we like having four.”
Defensively, the Thunderbirds do much more than simply make routine outs.
“We are very solid on defense,” Shanks said. “We will turn a double play here or there and throw people RuW IURP WKH RuWfiHOG. WH PDNH SODyV that turn games around and that’s GHfiQLWHOy KHOSHG uV.”
One thing that shows the ThunderELUGV’ FRQfiGHQFH OHYHO LV WKDW WKHy DUH an U16 team mostly playing against U18 competition. If the girls are to get better and make a push for varsity softball in the spring, they need to be challenged in the summer. They have EHHQ WHVWHG DQG KDYH SDVVHG wLWK flying colors.
“We take a look at what teams are in these tournaments before we sign up,” Shanks said. “We don’t gain much by playing younger competition. We won’t play in tournaments that are not going to challenge us.”
The team is composed of varsity, jayvee and freshman players. While many of them play against each other during the course of a school season,
together and gel famously during the summer. It is important for these players to learn a lot about the game in these few short months, allowing Whem Wo flourish on their school teams.
“All these girls that are playing on the team should play varsity next year,” Shanks said. “This summer, they are seeing how important teamwork is to winning games. They are also learning how to eat, drink, rest and keep mentally focused because the days and tournaments can be long and hot.”
Now, with a couple tournaments to go until nationals, the girls have the week off before getting back on the grind. The Thunderbirds are well rounded on both offense and defense, making them a tough out in any tournament. The team is confidenW, wiWh good reason, and is looking forward to the challenges ahead.
“We will accept any result we get at nationals, but we feel good about potentially winning,” Shanks said. “We were in Whe final Iour once before and I think this team is even better. We are cerWainly confidenW.”
PONY CHAMPS… The Harleysville Thunderbirds 16U softball team recently captured the PONY National Qualifier in Philadelphia. The win earns a berth at the PONY Eastern Nationals in August. The team went 6-0 and allowed just seven runs the entire weekend. The team includes (from left) seated, Paige Shelly, Gabrielle Binando and Jenna Gibbons; second row, Sara Huzar, Missy Wiley, Morgan Yoder, Nicole Yanni, Mandy Kalil, Erelle Sowers, Dayna Shelly, Devon Barbalace and Becca Shanks; and coaches Gregg Yoder, Don Shelly, Ken Shanks and Ed Sowers.