Nebraska Gold proved it belonged in the country’s most prestigious national softball tournament with an impressive performance that left it hungry for 2014.
Finishing bracket play with a winning record and going 5-3 overall, Nebraska Gold finished 17th in the 18-and-under Premier Girls Fast Pitch national championships tournament in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Its first loss in bracket play of the 72-team tournament was a 4-0 setback to SoCal Athletics, which won its fourth consecutive national championship.
Nebraska Gold opened with a 7-6 win over Irvine (Calif.) Gold before that loss, then defeated SoCal Explosion 4-3 and Team North Florida 1-0. Arizona Storm ended Nebraska Gold’s season at 75-20 with a 10-9, nine-inning thriller.
“We lost that last one in extra innings, but we felt like we belonged and we were playing with the best teams in the country,” Nebraska Gold coach Dick Jablonski said. “We played very solid games against them and against all of the teams. When you look at the rosters of these teams, they’re all solid one through nine.”
Two of the three pre-tournament pool games went Nebraska Gold’s way. The victories were both 4-3 decisions over the Louisville Sluggers and Team North Florida, with the lone loss 5-2 to the Orange County Batbusters, the team that finished third.
“Every game was intense, every pitched mattered,” Jablonski said. “Nebraska Gold was up to the task but fell just a little short. Being a team that showed up for this national tournament for the first time we grew up a lot.”
Jablonski said Nebraska Gold hitters faced a steady diet of Division I pitchers, including those committed to Texas, UCLA, Florida and Missouri.
“The majority of the teams participating in the tournament had rosters full of kids committed to BCS conference schools,” Jablonski said. “Those teams have numbers, deep rosters. It does show that the girls in the state of Nebraska and surrounding areas can play toe-to-toe against the best national teams.
“I think it shows that they’re working as all the teams at the national level, have to do it a different way, we’re indoor they’re outdoor.”
Nebraska Gold will return seven players from this year’s squad for the 2014 season. Everything that happened this season can only help when Nebraska Gold kicks off the next season with indoor workouts in January.
“I do see a surge in the quality of ball, kids attending camps and making the commitment to travel ball to play better competition,” Jablonski said. “Nebraska is catching up in some regards, but they’re always going to out-weather us.”