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Success comes in form of the elder Challengers teams

For more than six years, the Tampa Bay Challengers travel softball program has developed some skilled players and built some exciting teams.

Although the program has teams for all ages starting with 10-year-olds and going through 18s, only the two older squads remain active at this point in the season.

The 18-and-under and 16-and-under teams have both qualified for the Independent Softball Association (ISA) national tournament Aug. 24-28 in Sarasota, but the younger teams have finished the season.

Danny Walter, one of the founders of the Challengers program, coaches the 18s and Deanna Sanders, former all-Hillsborough County at Armwood and current assistant coach at Tampa Bay Tech, coaches the 16s.

Both teams are young this season, but with a 25-10 record, the 16s have been able to come around to developing consistency faster.

The 18s are below .500 for the season, because of inconsistency, according to Walter. However, the team has come from behind in several games to pull out upsets.

Recently as the 12th seed in the Bullett Bonanza Tournament in Clearwater, the Challengers knocked off the highly touted Florida Xplosion in the first round. The Xplosion was seeded third.

The 16s are not as strong defensively as they are at the plate. In 35 games, the team has not scored less than five runs.

"We are definitely a hard-hitting team," Sanders said. "We spend a lot of time working at hitting the first pitch. I work with them on balance at the plate, eye-to-ball contact and the level swing. Most of their hits are on the first two pitches."

Anne Marie Gertinisan is the Challengers' pitching ace. She throws hard with a fastball that hits the corners.

Wendy Lewis has the largest arsenal of pitches and Jennifer Tustison puts the most movement on her pitches.

Rounding out the four-pitcher rotation, Stephanie Lantz is new in the lineup and improving.

Behind the plate Jackie Godwin carries most of the duties, but Shana Evans spells her when necessary.

Coleen Corbitt guards first.

"Coleen is just great at digging throws out of the dirt," Sanders said. "She is only 5-foot-4, but she has a nice stretch."

Beth Plunkett uses a quick left-to-right motion to cover second. She is a consistent hitter and has good eye-to-hand coordination.

Holly Brooks and Brenna Barno share third base responsibilities. At 5-8, 175 pounds, Brooks has a strong arm and is a power hitter.

In the outfield are Samantha Wertman, Rachel O'Malley, Shelby Gregory and Lisa Olson. All are fast and consistent hitters.

All-Hillsborough County shortstop Jessica Augello is the sparkplug for the 18s. Augello made the all-star first-team as a senior at Armwood High last Spring and signed to play at St. Petersburg Junior College next year.

She hits better than .300, rarely makes an error and motivates her teammates when they get down, according to Walter.

Unfortunately for the Challengers, she was injured in a recent tournament and will miss the ISA nationals.

Dawn Buytas, Heather Hall and Denetta Clouse make up the pitching rotation. All three are right-handers.

Autum Hernandez is the primary catcher, but Stacy Wynn and Amy Webster help behind the plate.

Kern Kirkland plays first and Jamie Pirone and Daisy Viteri share second-base chores.

Megan Henderson is the third baseman.

Katie Fallin, Maria Pirone and Michelle Symmes cover the outfield and Linsey Duncan fills in for Augello at short.

"The ISA nationals will be a very tough tournament next week, but I expect good play from both our teams," Walter said.