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Athletics 16-Under travel softball team happy to be playing after unprecedented long delay

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter
November 4, 2020

 

 

It hasn’t been easy for youth sports the past six months because of the pandemic and with California still closed, more and more teams have been venturing to neighboring states to get in some games and hopefully get some looks from college coaches. The travel softball season officially begins in September and the Athletics 16-Under squad, managed by Cerritos native Jon Nielsen, saw action for the first time last weekend, participating in the Team NJ-Arizona Fall Invitational in Scottsdale.

The last time Nielsen’s team was in action with a full squad was the weekend before Halloween of 2019. Another factor making it more challenging for the Athletics to play anywhere is the fact that of the 13 players on the team, half a dozen hail from Hawai’i.

“It was long overdue,” Nielsen said. “It was exciting to get back out there. Obviously, we had a summer schedule planned and COVID hit and kind of threw everything off. The Hawai’i protocols, with their lockdown, made it impossible to even attempt for [the six Hawai’i players] to fly out and play.”

In the beginning, Hawai’i had imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine and Nielsen added that some of the parents had Union jobs that stated that if any family members were to leave the state, they would have to quarantine without pay. Nielsen said he was glad Hawai’i recently changed its travel policies to where anyone flying in and out of the state has to have a negative COVID test.

“It’s tough; my hat’s off to the parents for making it happen,” Nielsen said. “The girls have to take a COVID test 72 hours before they fly back home, and the parents too. So, it’s a daunting task, and play softball. It’s a sacrifice [the parents] are doing for the kids. Hopefully, the restrictions let up more after the first of the year because we’ll play again. Then the summer should be wide open.”

The Athletics, who were one of 42 16-Under teams to have participated in the tournament, arrived in Arizona last Thursday and last Friday night, they edged the (Fort Mojave) AZ Bombers-Williams 6-5. The game went back and forth until the bottom of the seventh inning when the Athletics won in walk-off style.

Shortstop Jadyn Nielsen (Cerritos High), was on second base when she stole third and following a bad throw, was sent home in what Jon Nielsen thought was the winning run. However, it was only the tying run. Walks issued to Puakea Milbourne (Kapolei High) and Madison Rabe (Kamehameha High) put the Athletics in great shape for Kauai native Savannah Simmons (Kapaa High), who singled in Milbourne for the game-winner.

Last Saturday afternoon, the Athletics fell to the (San Jose) Batbusters-Cougoule 6-3 and the (San Mateo) West Bay Warriors-McDonald 9-2. The Warriors were one of three 16-Under teams to win all five games in pool play.

Against the Batbusters, outfielder Layla Monteon (La Mirada High) went three for three while Milbourne and Rabe each went two for three with a run batted in. In the second game of the day, second baseman Kili Makanani, also from Kauai who goes to Kapaa High, had a pair of hits in three at-bats and drove in a run.

This past Sunday morning, the team was doubled up by the (Sacramento) NorCal Bandits 8-4 as Makanani went three for four with one RBI while McKayla Cotton went two for three and drive in the run. The final game for the Athletics was an emphatic 14-5 triumph over the (East Valley) AZ Vendetta-LaFlesch. Monteon went three for three while Jadyn Nielsen had a triple, a walk and drove in a run.

The Athletics were plagued all weekend with leaving runners on base and because of that, Jon Nielsen believed his team should have gone 4-1 instead of 2-3. In fact, five of the six teams in the pool all went 2-3. The Athletics left the bases loaded twice against the West Bay Warriors.

“We had our spots to capitalize and we didn’t,” he said. “Against a team like that that’s well-coached, you have to take advantage of those situations. We weren’t out of the game. They scored nine runs, yes, but we had the capability to match that, if not more.”

One of the bright moments of the weekend was Monteon, a newcomer to the team, who was on fire, going nine for 12 in the tournament.

The Athletics remained in the Valley of the Sun this entire week as it will participate in the Triple Crown Sports Arizona Fall Showcase, which starts today and runs through Sunday. The 16-U division of this tournament will have 110 teams and college coaches are expected to make it there in person. The team will face the (Los Banos, CA) AASA-Pikas this morning before playing the (Sacramento) Firecrackers-Lelas Neal and (Montclair) American Pastime GOLD-Velasquez/Farnworth. The Athletics then will wrap up the tournament on Sunday afternoon against the (Torrance) Ohana Tigers GOLD-Holloway/Contreras and the (Tucson) Oro Valley Suncats-Judge.

“I think the benefit of playing back to back weekends, especially with not having played together…now we have five full games under our belt going into this weekend,” Jon Nielsen said. “I think the groove will get back a little bit going into this TCS Showcase.”

Once the Arizona Fall Showcase is over, the Athletics will fly back to either California or Hawai’i on Monday and the team won’t play again until the middle of January when they will participate in the USA Preps-Best of the Best tournament, which will be held in Las Vegas.

 

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