By Karen Hall
A Lewisburg girl made the long trip to Sioux Falls, S.D. with her family and teammates and came home with a national championship.
Ashton Watkins, now a sophomore at Marshall County High School, was one of 12 girls who made up the Tennessee Fury 97 team. The Fury won all 10 games it played in the ASA/USA Class A 14U Girls' Fast Pitch National Softball Championship.
"It was very impressive, almost unheard of," said Ashton's mother Kristy. "We are super excited.
"We haven't come down off our cloud yet," she added Monday night, as the family was trying to unpack and get ready for Ashton's first day back to school.
"We've got college coaches calling to congratulate the team," added her father Lee. "We've brought the championship home to the south."
The Fury outscored their opponents 35-6 in bracket play en route to claiming the championship. Finishing second was Team Arizona, from Glendale, Ariz., with a 7-2 record. Behind them came Impact Gold, Deer Park, Texas, 8-2, and MN Renegades 97, St. Louis Park, Minn., 9-2.
Fury parents made a substantial commitment in time and money, leaving hometowns in Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia on July 26 to drive about 1,000 miles to Sioux Falls, returning home on Aug. 6. One hundred and 14 teams from all over the country converged on the South Dakota city with their parents, siblings and coaches.
The Fury has been together since last fall, Kristy explained. One coach with five players joined forces with another coach who had about the same number, and then they held a tryout in Chattanooga and picked up a few more girls and formed the team.
There are only four spots in the tournament for Tennessee teams, and the Fury earned theirs at the first qualifying tournament they played in. After qualifying, Kristy said, the Fury "played up" with teams of older girls, and also played in "exposure tournaments" with college coaches watching.
Now the team will take three to four weeks off, then hold another tryout, and start playing again. Next year they will move up to the next division, and the national championship will be held in California. The coaches have said the girls will get national championship rings and have a big party, Kristy reported.
This was not the Watkins family's first trip to nationals. Last year Ashton was in a team that finished 33rd, playing in Midland, Texas, and the year before that, when the tournament was in Bloomington, Ind., her team placed 7th. It always works out that they buy school clothes while they're on the road for a tournament, Kristy said, though they did make a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart for school supplies Monday evening.
Ashton and competitive softball go back a long way. In 2007 she was a member of the 9-10-year-old Marshall County Little League All-Stars team that went to the state tournament under the guidance of Coach Mike "Gumby" Wortham.
Still coached by "Gumby" in 2009, Ashton was on the Marshall County Babe Ruth 12U team that placed third in the Southeast Region Tournament in Virginia, where she was named MVP.
With all this in her background, it's not surprising that Ashton became a valued member of the Tigerettes softball team as a freshman. She played second base and swung a hot bat nearly every time she stepped up to the plate. The Tigerettes won the District 12-AA title, with Watkins being named to the All-District first team, along with Morgan Moyers and Kalie Hobbs.
The Tigerette's season ended with a loss to Camden Central in the Region 6-AA opening round.