Local team captures second straight World Series title
For the second straight year, the Arkansas Heat 10-and-under softball team brought home the USSSA World Series Championship to cap off a remarkable 63-9 season for the Paragould based team, featuring players from Paragould, Jonesboro, Marked Tree, Lake City and Piggott.
The Arkansas Heat raced through the tournament with a 9-1 record, but had to defeat the Omaha, Nebraska Quakes twice in order to take home the title, after losing to the Nebraska squad 6-5 earlier in the finals of the winner's bracket. It was the only loss of the tourney for the Heat, in a game that took two days to play because of rain interruptions. But the Heat recovered, knocking off St. Louis Esprit 12-1 in the loser's bracket final to earn a rematch with the Quakes in the finals. The Heat won the first game 5-4 before coming back to take home the championship with a 10-5 victory in the winner take all finale.
"This is what separates this team from all the others," said Heat Coach Rex Nelson. "They are so resilient. They believe they are the best team and no one can consistently beat them."
The tournament, which was held July 21-27 in Independence, Mo., saw the Heat win their first seven games by a combined 84-6 margin.
Pitcher Chase Nelson of Paragould took home tournament Most Valuable Player honors, going 5-1 on the mound, including firing a no-hitter while fanning 48 batters. Nelson is the daughter of Head Coach Rex Nelson.
"We have a motto that hard work will beat talent, especially when the talent doesn't work hard," said Nelson. "We have a very dedicated team. We're not very big physically, but we have a lot of heart and that's what sets us apart."
Nelson said he knew his team was capable of repeating as World Series Champions when they played the North Alabama Rockets earlier in the year. "Even though we lost, we knew we would be very good because of the quality of the competition," added Nelson.
The Heat won 11 of the 14 tournaments they played in during the course of the season, and finished as runner-ups in the other three.
The 10-and-under Heat consists of ten players, including Lake City's Katie Lomax. "Katie is a very good defensive player," said Nelson. "She made two game-saving catches in the World Series tournament, including one in the championship game. We switched Katie to a left-handed batter this season to take advantage of her speed, and she came up with some clutch hits throughout the year for us. She is a hard worker who tries to please. She gives it everything she has and can play anywhere on the field."
Lomax is the daughter of Samantha and Chris Tilley of Lake City and Kyle and Kass Lomax of Jonesboro. She is the granddaughter of Kenny and Beverly Lomax, who serve as the team's sponsors. The Lomaxes are owners of pharmacies in Monette and Leachville, as well as Jonesboro. Pictures and trophies of the Heat adorn the pharmacy in Monette where Kenny works.
"We couldn't do this without Kenny and Beverly," said Nelson. "All the parents are very helpful and contribute to our success in some form or fashion. We have a pull-behind trailer with our team logo on it that we take our equipment in, and we are very proud of that."
In addition to Lomax and Nelson, other team members include Courtney Barnes, Kiana Cole, Destry Mallard, and Addison McCreless, all of Paragould. Claire Brown is from Marked Tree, Madison Manley lives in Jonesboro, Braxton Burnside resides in Piggott, and Samantha Scott lives in Atoka, Tenn.
"The strength of this team is pitching and defense," said Nelson. "But we also have a good hitting team. One coach compared us to Godzilla."
"Everyone had a great tournament," said Nelson. "Claire Brown was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player and hit an out of the park homerun. Courtney Barnes, Braxton Burnside, Madison Manley, Samantha Scott and Chase Nelson were all named to the All-Tournament team. Everyone contributed at the plate."
Nelson also praised his two assistant coaches, Harold Burnside and Darrell McCreless.
"We had a lot of fun this year," said Nelson. "I think the girls were more excited this season winning the second World Series title than they were the first time, because we played better teams. This is a great group of kids to work with and we can't wait to get started in the fall when we move up to 12-and under."