WCWS shows soft­ball growth for non-US pro­grams

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - By Cliff Brunt

OK­LA­HOMA CITY » USA Soft­ball ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Craig Cress hopes the Women’s Col­lege World Se­ries of­fered a glimpse of the sport’s fu­ture.

In Game 1 of the cham­pi­onship se­ries last week, Florida State pitcher Meghan King faced Washington’s Gab­bie Plain. In Game 2, King’s op­po­nent was Washington’s Taran Alvelo. King earned wins in both games and led Florida State to its first na­tional ti­tle

he im­pact went well be­yond the USA Soft­ball Hall of Fame Com­plex. King and Alvelo are Amer­i­cans with Puerto Ri­can ties who will try to help the U. S. ter­ri­tory qual­ify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Plain is a fresh­man from Aus­tralia who is a part of her coun­try’s na­tional pro­gram.

Two other World Se­ries pitch­ers — Florida’s Aleshia Oca­sio and Ari­zona State’s Giselle “G” Juarez — are on Puerto Rico’s squad. Other World Se­ries par­tic­i­pants who play for Puerto Rico are Florida State’s Carsyn Gor­don and Ko­rina Rosario and Florida’s Jamie Hoover. Washington’s Mor­ganne Flores is a Puerto Rico team mem­ber who was in­jured and didn’t play for the Huskies this sea­son. Canada and Mex­ico also had na­tional team rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Ok­la­homa City.

Soft­ball was in the Olympics from 1996 to 2008, but left out in 2012 and 2016 be­fore re­turn­ing for the Tokyo Games.. The United States and Ja­pan are the only na­tions to win gold, with the United States win­ning three times and Ja­pan win­ning once. Cress said the World Se­ries suc­cess for play­ers with na­tional teams out­side the main­land U.S. is the kind of progress needed to help soft­ball re­main in the Olympics long term and be­come a truly global sport.

“I think the main rea­son that got voted out was that it’s looked at as an Amer­i­can sport,” Cress said. “And the IOC (In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee) is not made up of ( just) Amer­i­cans, ob­vi­ously.”

The United States will head to Ja­pan for a se­ries June 20-23, and the Paris 2024 Olympics del­e­ga­tion will be rep­re­sented. Cress said his group will join Ja­pan in try­ing to con­vince the Paris of­fi­cials that soft­ball and base­ball should be on the pro­gram.

As the United States looks at the big pic­ture, the short-term goal is a spot in the 2020 Games. Oth­ers have scoured the United States for play­ers with her­itage from their coun­tries, with plenty of help from Amer­i­can coaches and of­fi­cials. Florida State coach Lonni Alameda con­nected with former Florida State player Jes­sica Boul­ware (for­merly van der Lin­den), a pitch­ing coach for Puerto Rico, on King’s be­half. Now, King is a key mem­ber of Puerto Rico’s squad.

“She loved it, stayed with it, and it has helped her so much,” Alameda said. “In­ter­na­tional soft­ball is just a whole ‘nother level. She’s just re­ally com­fort­able.”

Tommy Ve­lazquez, pres­i­dent of the Puerto Rico Soft­ball Fed­er­a­tion, paid at­ten­tion as King dom­i­nated the World Se­ries with four wins, a save and a record for low­est earned run av­er­age.

“She is an amaz­ing pitcher,” Ve­lazquez said. “I think we both are grow­ing in the process. She is learn­ing about in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion and in­ter­na­tional teams, the big sce­nario. Our team re­ceived an out­stand­ing pitcher and our per­for­mance in­creased au­to­mat­i­cally.”

King will help as Puerto Rico pre­pares for the World Cham­pi­onships in Au­gust in Chiba, Ja­pan. Mex­ico, Canada and Aus­tralia are among the 16 na­tions that will com­pete in the Olympic qual­i­fy­ing tour­na­ment.

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