For the 10-year-old girls on Jefferson’s 10U Travel Falcons softball team, January was the perfect time to get inside a practice facility, start throwing, begin running, and set goals for the spring season. With most of the players returning, the team had two goals: win the league and be at their best for PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) Nationals in Virginia in July.

According to coach Rob Strauch, the team wanted “to play against the best and measure ourselves against the best so that we can grow and improve both as a team and as a program here in Jefferson.”

After about a dozen tournaments and almost 70 games played (and mostly won), the Falcons rolled into Sterling, Virginia, for the nationals in July. The players, coaches, and parents enjoyed the opening ceremonies, introductions, pin exchanging, and plenty of gold medals for the Jefferson girls. The following morning, the competition began with the first pitch lined into center field for a lead-off single.

Kennedy Brown, the lead-off hitter, stole the first of many bases over the course of the tournament and scored the first of many runs. Pitcher Kailey Strauch was described by coach Frank Skrek as the “backbone of any success that we enjoy, as she routinely hits her spots with an arsenal of pitches that keep really good hitters off balance.” The Falcons won their first game 22-2, the most runs scored by any team in a tournament game that weekend.

Madison Manco continued to show her commitment to being the best catcher by wearing the gear throughout the tournament, including all four games on a 98-degree day. She threw out six of eight runners and had several hard hit balls throughout the tournament, including a clutch two-out, two-run triple in a tight elimination game.

After winning three of four in pool play, the Falcons earned the three seed entering elimination day. An early morning loss made the road to the finals a bit longer, but the “never say die” Falcons took the bottom bracket and went into the championship round focused and prepared to win.

McKenzie Kraus had a big weekend with the bat and the glove as well hitting clean-up and playing first base. “We lost track of how many doubles she hit by Sunday afternoon,” said coach Rob Licursi. “She makes difficult plays look routine in the field,” added coach Kevin Bartels.

Lily Guthrie continued to play solid defense by laying down key bunts and legging out countless slow rollers in order to keep innings alive and pressure on the opponent. Kylie Carr’s bat came alive in the first inning of the first game and remained hot all weekend with countless clutch knocks, RBIs, runs scored, and glove work. Adriana Roman’s bat awakened at just the right time. Gianna Licursi’s blazing speed was wreaking havoc on the bases all weekend. Riley Strauch continued to wear pitchers down with lengthy at bats, spoiling good pitch after good pitch and usually finding herself on base. Emmagrace Bartels was a standout hitter in the five spot with numerous solid two-strike pokes. Kama Skrek made plays at second, pitched well when called upon, and got a clean single in the championship game in her only at-bat.

Despite being eventually overcome in the finals by the very talented Shooting Stars team from the local area, the 2018 Jefferson 10U Travel Falcons team fought hard and finished as the national runner-up. They earned an automatic invitation to return for the 2019 PONY Nationals. “This team is close and they have each other’s backs,” said Strauch.