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Newberg-based 16-U team finishes second to Grants Pass in state tourney earlier this month

GRAPHIC PHOTO: GARY ALLE - The Ambush 16-U club softball team is winning games on the strength of its pitching and defense.

In a statewide tournament featuring some of the best club softball teams in the state, Ambush 16-U emerged with a second-place finish behind Grants Pass in Portland on July 6-7. The team – comprised of young players from Newberg, Hillsboro, Gaston and Molalla – maintained the momentum of the Newberg High School's spring varsity season by hanging with and defeating top opponents.

Club program co-director and 16-U coach Joe Harris said the perseverance the team showed in the state tournament proved its place among the elite teams it faced.

"The team performed great," he said. "We lost a couple players the week of the tournament and other girls just stepped into their roles and did an outstanding job. They bonded together and showed excellent teamwork and communication, which was needed to end up doing what we did."

The team's top local players include Ruthie Carsley, who played on the NHS varsity team, and her sister Abby, along with Harris's daughter, Kylie. A handful of other players from the NHS program fill out about half the roster, while the rest are from elsewhere.

Harris and the coaching staff make a point of scheduling a large portion of Ambush's games against older opponents – many of them 18-U teams. Ambush beat many of those teams this season and even if they didn't Harris said it provided valuable experience that paid off come 16-U playoff time.

"They get a lot from tourney ball," he said. "Our girls are putting down anywhere between 100 and 120 games in a season. They're traveling all over the place from Oregon to Vegas to California, and seeing a lot of top competition."

The club softball season is undoubtedly a grind, but for many in Newberg it's a necessary challenge in order to meet the varsity program's expectations and better themselves as athletes. Now that the Ambush has faced the challenge of the state tournament, it's on to two separate national competitions in Oregon and California – each more challenging than the last, Harris said.

The season is essentially year-round and the road through the state playoffs included wins over North Medford, Salem Aftershock, Bridgetown Softball and others. The common thread in all of the Ambush's victories has been defense – something the NHS varsity squad did as well last spring as it made an appearance in the 6A postseason.

The Tigers advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs before bowing out at the hands of No. 2 overall seed Sunset.

A few seniors graduated and the rest were left to play club ball for Harris and others throughout the Willamette Valley.

Harris's team has a defined brand of rugged softball that has allowed it to be successful this year and in previous ones, he said.

"Our strength is defense and pitching," Harris said. "We live and die on our defense and we pound that home in practice. We will nickel and dime you on offense and win our games with our defense."

The Oregon-based national competition is this week, with game times to be determined. The team will travel to California in about 10 days, where the season will come to an end before the team gets a short offseason.

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