© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2002
TAMPA -- Except for the parents of players on 8-and-under travel-ball teams, most people don't get too excited watching softball.
However, the Heat Wave made quite a splash last weekend in Bartow, winning all five games in their its group to win the Summer Slam tournament. The team scored 71 runs and allowed only 15.
The Heat Wave also qualified for the International Softball Association national tournament July 17-21 in Woodstock, Ga.
"People from other ballfields nearby started gathering around to watch our little girls play," Heat Wave coach Sonny LeBlanc said. "I was quite pleased with their play all weekend. They still need a lot of work, but I would say they are in the top four 8-and-under teams in the state right now."
In two previous tournaments, the Heat Wave made it to the finals and placed second.
LeBlanc, a former King High coach, started the team last year, mostly to introduce his granddaughter to softball.
For the youngest age group in travel ball, the coaches do all the pitching.
"For a lot of safety reasons, each coach pitches to his own team," LeBlanc said. "We pitch to help them hit the ball, so some I pitch hard and others I lob it in. Each team also has a player around the mound to play defense at the pitcher's area, because the coaches can't handle the ball once it is hit."
Since forming the Heat Wave last year, LeBlanc has seen the program grow to four teams. The Heat Wave also has teams in 10-and-under, 12-and-under and 14-and -under.
LeBlanc plans to form another 12-and-under team to play in the Pony Nationals in July.
The Heat Wave practices in Plant City but has players from as far away as Orlando.
Lindsi Hardy from Orlando and Kelsey Rodriguez of Brandon are the catchers. Mackenzie Ellingsworth of Plant City plays defense in the 8-foot circle around the pitcher's mound.
Morgan Litchfield of Maderia Beach is at first, Kelsea Fowler of Citrus Park second, Amanda Polk of Plant City shortstop and Taylor Cogburn of Orlando third. Shelby Mathews of Clearmont alternates with Cogburn at third.
Rather than just three outfielders, the younger age group has four, including a rover.
Amber Rusher of Citrus Park plays centerfield, Amber Carlo of Plant City is in left, Caitie Lytle is in right and Lauren Mansfield of South Tampa is the rover.
In the Bartow tournament, the Heat Wave beat the Winter Haven Tiny Twisters 18-1 in the semifinals and the Seminole Warriors 17-8 in the championship game.
Lytle set the offensive pace for the Heat Wave in the tournament, going 10-for-12 with a pair of doubles and two triples. Mathews went 5-for-5 in the last two games.