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Sluggers vying for ASA crown

[8/3/04]The Mississippi Sluggers have come a long way since forming in 1999.

The Vicksburg-based softball team, which is in its sixth year, has qualified for the Amateur Softball Association Eastern National Championship, which will be the biggest tournament the team has ever been to.

The tournament, which begins today at Ridgeland’s Freedom Ridge Park, has historically drawn teams from Massachusetts, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Alabama and Mississippi. The Sluggers qualified by placing fourth in the state with a 20-9 record this summer.

“Hopefully we’ll go over there and compete well and maybe get a few breaks along the way,” Sluggers coach Tony Franco said. “We can win if we play good, fundamental softball.”

During the summer, the team practices at least twice a week at Bazinsky Park, and they play in ASA-sanctioned tournaments almost every weekend.

The ENC will be the seventh tournament the Sluggers have played in this summer, and they have won two of them a tournament in Monroe and one in Vicksburg.

Almost all of the Sluggers live in Vicksburg, but there are a few from the metro Jackson area. They all will be playing on their high school teams when the season starts next spring.

Franco calls most of the members of his team “fairly laid-back,” but he and several assistant coaches try to instill in them a work ethic that they might take beyond the softball field.

“We take this pretty seriously,” he said. “We want to teach them about good softball and life.

“They’re are all looking to try to excel at the high school level and maybe beyond. We’ve got to push them sometimes to get the work done, but most of them are willing to do it. They’re pretty loose, but all of these girls love softball and know they have to work at it.”

The team was thrown together from local rec teams six years ago, when its current members were 8 years old. They have played together every summer since, and now most of them are 13 and headed to the eighth grade. Seven of the original team members are still playing on the team, which Franco says has greatly improved since its formation.

“That first summer, I think we might have won one game, maybe none,” he said with a laugh. “They’ve kept a core group that plays every year, and they just keep getting better every summer.”