WILBRAHAM – Rookies no more, two close friends and teammates recently entered their second season in the demanding world of travel softball.
Rachel Crafts and Giavana LaChapelle
Reminder Publications submitted photo
For Rachel Crafts, 13, and Giavana LaChapelle, 14, both Wilbraham Middle School eighth graders, it is another chance to showcase their talents on the diamond and display what hard work in the offseason can do.
In August 2012, the pair made the decision to move on from their Wilbraham-Hampden Falcons U12 team that had dominated local competition, posting an undefeated regular season and winning the league championship that had narrowly escaped them in the 2011. That NEYSA league team, under the tutelage of coach Paul Stolar, posted a stellar two year record of 25-2-1 and provided a strong foundation of fundamentals for players like Crafts and LaChapelle to build on.
In search of stiffer competition, both players had successful tryouts with the Connecticut-based Mirage softball organization and their 12U team, the Mirage 2K Teal, accepting offers to join the squad from head coach Eddie Marks. From there they embarked on an intensive practice schedule, fall and winter league play, and the main event, the spring/summer travel tournament season. All told, the team played 68 games, posting a mark of 45-21-3, reaching five finals out of the 11 regular season tournaments, winning three titles. In the recently concluded Fast Pitch Nation (FPN) Winter League, played indoors at FPN in Bloomfield, Conn., the 2K Teal captured their 14U division title with an 8-2 record, winning eight straight games to close the season.
Crafts cracked the Mirage lineup in her first year as a shortstop and as one of three pitchers the team features. She has been a fixture as the cleanup hitter since being named to the squad, one of the team leaders in batting average, hits and RBIs. Crafts has also been a solid contributor in the pitching circle, putting years of pitching lessons with Hadley-based instructor and college team consultant Julie Bolduc to the test.
LaChapelle established herself in either the two or three hole in the batting order, capitalizing on hard work in the batting cage and a disciplined plate approach to become a threat every time up. She logs most of her starts at second base, with time tossed in at shortstop and outfield. LaChapelle stepped up her commitment during the past winter by undertaking a training program at Powerhouse Training in East Longmeadow that has added strength and pop to her bat for 2014.
Asked what qualities Marks recognized in the pair and has witnessed to date he said, “I saw two players with good fundamentals and the skills to move up to the next level. They wanted to challenge themselves, and they did just that, working hard all season long,”
He continued, “For this year, I hope to see them continue to grow into that next level player that we have been working towards this past winter. The two of them, along with their teammates, have learned very important skills that can be used on and off the field such as working as a team and never giving up no matter what obstacle is trying to hold you back.”
On March 22 and 23, Crafts and LaChapelle began their 2014 tournament season with a strong, runner-up finish in the FPN Spring Classic. Their Mirage team swept Saturday’s play with a 3-0 record, entered Sunday’s play as the number two seed, and advanced to the Sunday final. There, they met the Cheshire (Conn.) Wildcats 99s, featuring another Wilbraham native, Taylor Sanborn, a Minnechaug freshman and member of the varsity softball team. The Wildcats bats proved to be stronger as they avenged a 2-1 Saturday loss to the Mirage with a 9-5 championship victory.
It was the first of 11 weekend tournaments the Mirage 2K Teal are scheduled to play this season, with most play at Connecticut venues as well as trips to Swansea, Mass., and Warwick, RI. Twice a week, two-hour practices, either at FPN or outdoors at Suffield Academy, hone the girls’ skills for competition. Tournaments consist of a minimum of three games on Saturdays, after which teams are seeded based on their performance for Sunday’s championship play. Sunday play is single elimination.
Team construction in travel softball generally sees teams spend two years at each age division, so a “first year” 14U team like the Mirage currently consists of a mix of 13 year olds and recently minted 14 years olds, all born in the year 2000. They compete against both “first year” and “second year,” 14U teams, with “second year” teams consisting of both 14 year olds and 15 year olds.
Once players who are eligible, and are selected for high school play, start playing for their schools, the tournament seasons are usually suspended until the high school season is over as schedule conflicts and rules make both unmanageable.
The runner up finish in the first tournament of the year has only encouraged Crafts and LaChapelle to continue to work and be confident the results will follow. High school softball waits; and there are skills to master.
The Mirage softball organization, founded in 2002, offers teams in every age division, from 10U to 23U. The organization will be hosting a free skills clinic in April for ages 9 to 11. Pre-registration is available on the Mirage website, miragesoftball.com, by clicking on the “register” tab on the upper right hand corner of the page, or players can register at the door. The clinic will take place on April 19 at Fastpitch Nation, 62 Douglas St., Bloomfield, Conn., with registration at 2:30 p.m. and the clinic from 3 to 6 p.m. Pitchers and catchers are encouraged to attend.
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