Their record may have wound up 3-4, but for the three Livingston Parish players who competed with the LA Blazers Elite in the 2019 USA Softball Junior Olympic Cup, there’s no disappointment in that mark.
“It was awesome,” former French Settlement player Jackie Crosby said after the Blazers finished tied for seventh place in the final 18U B team standings for the tournament, held in Spartanburg, S.C. “I’m so glad I got to experience it. The competition was tough, but we played to the other teams’ level. We got better in the games, and we competed.”
“Those were the best teams in the country, and the fact that we got in the top 12, I think our team did really well,” former Doyle standout Alissa Ragas said. “We wanted to go a little bit further, but what we got, we were very happy. Our games that we played this year at that tournament were the best games we’ve played all season.”
The Blazers dropped their first two games with losses to the Bandits NC (13-1), the Lady Gators (7-2). They responded with a 4-0 win over the Easton Elite Speed where Ragas, who signed with Louisiana College, went 1-for-2 with a run, and former Live Oak standout catcher Brett Leiva scored a run.
“We realized that this wasn’t a joke and we had to take it serious,” Crosby, a Delta State signee, said of the team’s approach after the first two losses. “We all just took our time off and thought about it ourselves, and then the next day, we came out and we just had fun and cheered each other on, and we did good.”
The Blazers followed with a 7-0 win over the Oklahoma Athletics Gold, and Ragas, who signed with Louisiana College, said part of the team’s success came from keeping the atmosphere loose.
“We had so much fun when we were in the dugout,” Ragas said. “That was the most fun we’ve had from this year and last year. We were all talking it up. We were all pumped up and excited to be there. Even if we just got a walk or something, we were going crazy.”
The Blazers got sidetracked in a 5-4 loss to the Michigan Finesse. Leiva, who signed with West Florida University, went 2-for-4 with a run scored and Crosby 1-for-3 with an RBI in the game as the Blazers led 4-1 before the Finesse scored four runs, including a three-run fourth, to take the lead for good.
In their next game, the Blazers built a 5-0 lead over the Indiana Fusion en route to a 7-3 win, with Crosby going 1-for-2 with a run.
In what turned out to be their final game in the tournament, Crosby had an RBI-double as part of a two-run second inning that put the Blazers up 3-1 over the Florida Impact.
The Impact, however, got six hits, including four doubles, in a five-run sixth inning to take a 6-3 lead.
“They just started getting lucky hits in no-man’s land, but we never gave up,” Crosby said. “We kept cheering in the dugout until the last out and we kept having fun. We gave it our all.”
Crosby walked and scored on a single in the bottom of the sixth for the game’s final run.
Crosby and Ragas are hoping the team’s run in the tournament will serve as a catalyst for future Blazers players.
“I’m just happy,” Crosby said. “We set a tone for all the other softball players that are coming to Blazers. We just got better, and we proved who we were.”
Said Ragas: “I think we set a good tone for our organization so next year we should have the same ability for the girls to come back and get invited to go to the tournament.”
The event also marked the final travel ball tournament for Ragas and Crosby, who have been teammates since they were youngsters.
“Me and Jackie were best friends when we were really little, and then ending the tournament with her, that was a bittersweet moment,” Ragas said. “We were really upset that it was over, but it was cool how we started together and we got to finish together, and now we’re both going on to play at the collegiate level. We’re going to do great.”
“That’s something I’m going to keep with me forever,” Crosby said. “To get to experience that, got all my friendships. It was the best tournament ever.”