Stealing the showcase: College hopefuls try to impress at Triple Crown
For almost 200 girls at the Triple Crown Fastpitch World Series, the pressure crested Thursday night.
As the sun set at Quinn’s Junction Sports Complex fields, large crowds and throngs of college coaches watched the scholarship hopefuls take their cuts in the tournament’s annual college showcase games. The five events, which cost $75 per player, were sold out well before a July 1 registration deadline by high schoolers seeking a chance to get noticed.
"Most of these kids will be able to play at some level in college," said Dordt College coach Jeff Zomer, who estimated that 90 to 95 percent will earn full scholarships. "A lot of these kids are extremely talented. They’re anywhere from NAIA schools to Division I kids."
More than 20 college coaches attended, including coaches from California, Kansas, Nevada, Washington, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas. The University of Utah and Utah State were among Division I schools to officially check in with Triple Crown, though NCAA schools can only contact players July 1 after their senior year of high school and are limited to 50 days of recruiting each year. Most Division I scouts were likely unannounced as "drop-ins," tournament organizers said.
"They’re restricted to how many days they can recruit in a year," said Debbie Brombacher, the on-site coordinator for college coaches who knows a thing or two about the process. Her daughter, Stephanie Brombacher, is heading into her senior year at the University of Florida, where she has compiled a 77-8 record as a Division I starter. She started going to college showcase games at age 14.
"The individual girls will notify a lot of these coaches and let them know where they’re at, that they’ll be at this field, at this tournament," Brombacher said. "That’s why a lot of these coaches show up, because they’ve gotten e-mails from the girls."
Each team was made up of players from the same high school graduation year, ranging from 2010 to 2013, and coached by NAIA or junior college coaches. Pitchers and catchers each got two innings to show their wares before switching to a secondary position.
At just 15, the Utah Valley Express’ Andi Smith displayed a fastball that hit a personal-best 65 mph on her grandfather’s radar gun. That speed, if legitimate, would put her in the top range of current college pitchers, but it’s too early for Smith to officially contact the teams with a realistic chance at her services. "Right now, I’m just playing," Smith said. "Later, I’ll start talking."
Another Utahn, Salt Lake City Slam pitcher and first baseman Paige Reimann, was all smiles after pitching two strong innings and belting a home run. "I was really excited," she said. "I felt good about it."
Asked where she wanted to go, she began to rattle off "UCLA, BYU, Utah . . ." when a passing coach interjected "University of Great Falls!"
". . . University of Great Falls – any school would be fun," she finished.
First-year Central Christian College head coach Brian Perry made the trip from McPherson, Kansas, to meet the young players. Perry coached both 2011 and 2012 teams, and found the talent level at the tournament to be extremely high. Perry found a catcher at another Triple Crown event in Denver and made a number of other contacts during his time in Park City.
"There are a lot of summer tournaments, but I’m not sure that there are too many college showcase tournaments, where the purpose of it is just for college coaches to be able to get here and to see what players they have available," Perry said. "That’s what’s neat about Triple Crown, because not only is it a college tournament where we can see who’s available, but also, the competition is really good."
Smith said meeting girls who weren’t fazed by her heat was a new experience for her at the Triple Crown. "It’s a lot different, because I’m from a really small town," she said. "In the local ball areas, no one could really hit that well, so it was just a lot of strikeouts, and now it’s a lot more competition."
While most teams would like to add a high-end fastball to their staff, Dordt College’s Zomer said it’s not purely about athletic potential. The five or six kids he reached out to made an impression off the field, as well.
"If you’re able to make a conversation with the athlete, we like to ask what their GPA and SAT scores are," Zomer said. "We recruit student-athletes. Student comes before athlete. We want to make sure they can excel in the classroom."
Other tournaments may boast similar events, but Triple Crown makes a concerted effort to make things easy on the college coaches, providing them with a roster of all the players and informing all participants of the correct protocol for interactions.
"Triple Crown does a very nice job of getting it done all in one day," said Butte College coach Shanna Bela, who came back to Triple Crown for her second year and coached a 2012 team.
"The nice thing about it is the fields are spread out, but it doesn’t take an hour to drive from location to another," added Zomer.
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