Five teams have earned berths in the National Softball Association World Series thanks to their performances in the recent Heat Wave Fast-Pitch Classic.
The Tampa Mustangs (10-and-under) earned a spot by winning a division while The Tampa Islanders (10-under), Southern Illusions (12-14), Xplosions (16-under) and Lady Knights all qualified by placing in the top four behind teams that had already qualified.
To earn a berth in the NSA World Series, a team must win a qualifying tournament like the Heat Wave Classic. However, when the winner has qualified in a previous tournament, the next highest-finishing unqualified team wins the berth.
The Tampa Mustangs 10-and-under team is in its first year of fast-pitch competition, but sports a 17-0 record, winning every tournament it has challenged.
The young athletes were undefeated last year in slow-pitch and haven't changed their winning ways.
So far in 17 games this season, the Mustangs have scored 222 runs and given up nine.
"We had a county-wide talent search last year to put this team together," said Larry Laurato, the coach. "We have players from North Tampa, Town 'n Country, Temple Terrace, Brandon, Bloomingdale and Riverview.
Darlene Holister, a member of the all-world all-star slow-pitch team last year, leads the Mustangs in hitting with an average of .634.
Holister and Beth DiPietro, a Riverview resident, pitch for the team.
The Mustangs organization has two 14-and-under teams, one comprised of 14-year-olds and a younger squad of 12-to-13-year-olds.
The younger team played in a bracket with 27 other squads and competed in 11 games before finishing second. Dan Trowell coaches the Southern Illusions 12-and-under team that earned a berth in the tournament even with a fourth-place finish.
"We are a young team with most of our players still only 11," said Trowell. "We have good pitching and all the players are continuing to improve."
Illusions catcher Marissa Rosenberger paced the offense, getting a hit in all seven games in the tournament. Trailing 4-2 in the final inning of a quarterfinal game, she hit a three-run triple to give her team a 5-4 win.
Niki Trowell and Randi Gunn, both 11, are the Illusions pitchers.
"This was the largest NSA qualifying tournament in Florida," said Sonny LeBlanc, tournament organizer. "We are already planning for another next year."