Thun­der­birds U16s turn up the heat

News-Herald (Perkasie, PA) - - SPORTS - By Nick Iuele

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.

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