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Thunder tournament showcases area's best

June 02, 2006|by DAN KAUFFMAN

The Tri-State area's best softball players are coming to town.

The success of last year's inaugural Thunder PONY Qualifier - in which 40 teams played in five age groups (U18, U16, U14, U12 and U10) at four locations in Washington County - has led to this year's second edition being even bigger.

This weekend, 51 teams will do battle for the five age-group titles - and automatic berths to the PONY national tournaments, to be held later this summer - at five locations: The Pinesburg complex in Williamsport; Marty Snook Park in Halfway; Williamsport High School; Hagerstown Community College; and Washington County Regional Park in Black Rock.

"We had people registering for the tournament in January, they were so excited to come back," said Melissa Cutchall, president of the Tri-State Thunder travel organization, which runs the tournament. "We want our tournament to be the best. We want people to want to come here every year. I was really happy to see most of the teams who played last year came back."

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It's a showcase event for some of the top high school talent in the area, as well as a handful of players who have already experienced life at the college level, such as Thunder 18U pitcher Jamie Fowler, a South Hagerstown graduate who just finished her freshman year at Mount St. Mary's.

"You read the newspaper all year and see all the girls from high school, and this is the first time you get a chance to watch everybody at the same time," Cutchall said. "It's exciting to see the hype in the newspaper about these girls is actually real, and you get to see them play against each other."

The tournament can be used as a platform for players to catch the eyes of college scouts, who are always on the lookout for talent that could boost their programs.

"We've invited all of the local colleges, so I know some of those coaches will come and watch," Cutchall said. "The 18U tournament is being hosted at HCC, and it's a good thing. The girls get to see what a college campus looks like, and they get to play on a really nice field."

When it comes to travel softball, Washington County is the place to be this weekend.

"We have pretty much every local 18U team in the four-state area," Cutchall said. "A lot of times, you go to a tournament and the caliber of play isn't great, but we're lucky because all the best teams are coming to Hagerstown."

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