PLAINVILLE — For the college coaches behind the backstop, the loud “thwack” that came from Alissa Karjel’s bat was a conversation-stopper. She turned around an ill-fated pitch and deposited it over the left-field fence at the Plainville Athletic League’s Nelson Field in an instant.
When Karjel crossed the plate, coaches in the bleachers craned their necks to make sure they got her jersey number.
It was one of the moments that make tournaments like the New England’s Finest Showcase (organized by the Plainville-based Rhode Island Thunder) worthwhile for both players and college coaches.
Karjel is a soon-to-be junior at Hopkinton High who plays for Polar Crush Gold, a travel softball team that draws players from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, and New York.
She and her teammates, who include Liv Sloane of Newton North and Lexi Harvey of Natick High — played six games in early August as part of the New England’s Finest Showcase, which hosted 114 travel teams and coaches from more than 120 colleges.
In a 11-2 win over New Jersey Inferno, Karjel had a single to go along with her home run, and Sloane pitched three innings, allowing one run. Both knew that to play well in front of a handful of college coaches increased their odds, however slightly, of attaining a scholarship.
“It feels good,” Karjel said.
Polar Crush Gold played in six showcase tournaments this summer, including four out of state. Although its players are accustomed to trying to impress college coaches, it can still be a nerve-racking endeavor.
“It makes me kind of nervous,” Sloane said. “But then I zone it out and I’m fine. I just try not to look back there [behind the backstop] and focus on the catcher.”
Parents in attendance are not immune from feeling the pressure, either. Many serve as de facto travel coordinators, nutritionists, and trainers during their daughters’ weekend trips.
In Plainville, they lined the edges of fields, watching intently.
“I’m the father of a pitcher, and when she’s in the circle, my stomach’s always turning,” Todd Sloane said. “I’m nervous, but I think that comes with the territory. I also know that she works hard to practice and prepare so that when she goes in, when needed, she can do her best.”
According to Eric Karjel , Alissa’s father and the athletic director at Hopkinton High, showcase tournaments have become one of the only ways to be recruited by college softball coaches.
Years ago, a junior might be worried about making her high school varsity team. Now Karjel and Sloane, both two years away from going off to college, are already looking into campuses they like. They have even mulled which majors they might study as a way to narrow their college selections.
In general, playing in showcase tournaments has made players more college-ready, Eric Karjel said.
“College people say when the kids get there, they used to really have to talk to players about responsibility,” he said. “Now most girls are used to doing homework in the car, on planes, waiting in airports. They’re sort of already conditioned. They’re ready for the travel, they’re accustomed to doing homework when they can.”
Lynn Coutts , the head coach at the University of Maine, and her husband, Mike , an assistant with the Black Bears, spent almost 12 hours a day watching games over three days at the New England’s Finest Showcase. Lynn Coutts said they look for play on the field, but their scouting goes deeper than that.
“We also watch them interact,” she said. “We don’t just watch them play. I watch them when they’re off the field. I watch them when they’re at the snack shop, how they deal with their parents. I watch them when they make a mistake.”
There are very strict rules in place to regulate interactions between high school players and college coaches. For Karjel and Sloane, not yet juniors, coaches are not allowed to return e-mails or phone messages. They can, however, speak to players who make unofficial visits to campuses. Once their junior years begin in September, they can communicate more freely.
Until then, players have to let their play speak. Even though the New England’s Finest Showcase was the last of the summer for Polar Crush Gold, the team’s players have more chances to play in front of college coaches before their high school seasons.
Polar Crush Gold’s fall season starts at the end of the month and the team will travel to tournaments in New Jersey, Florida, and Nevada.
Post 59 captures state Legion title on second try
It was one of Milford coach Brian Macchi’s favorite sayings after Post 59 won a game this summer: “Turn the page.”
He uttered it again Wednesday night when Milford lost to Lowell, 5-1, in its first chance of the night to clinch the Massachusetts Intrastate championship.
“I said: ‘If someone told you a month ago you had a chance to win the state championship, do or die game, would you take it?’ Yeah, I’d take it in a heartbeat,” Macchi said. “That’s the position we put ourselves in. We lost the game but we could still come back and win the state championship.”
Behind 3⅓ scoreless innings from Dan Avery , a two-run single from tournament MVP Kevin Martinis, and a scoreless seventh inning from closer David Sampson , Milford overcame a 2-0 deficit in its second game of the night to beat Post 87, 5-2.
The team finished with a record of 32-5 and the championship was Post 59’s 20th, according to tournament officials.
For Macchi, it was his second state championship of the year.
He went 26-1 at the helm of Milford High’s softball team and helped the Scarlet Hawks capture their second consecutive state title. From softball tryouts to the final out of the Legion season, it has been a memorable four-and-a-half months on the diamond.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride,” he said. “But it’s these student athletes I get to work with that makes it that special, that much fun. It’s been great.”
Little League ride ends
for Newton SouthEast
During the Little League New England Regional tournament, Newton SouthEast’s players and coaches formed fast friendships with the team from Lionville, Pa., which was also in Bristol, Conn., competing for the Mid-Atlantic Regional title.
When Newton was eliminated by Westport, Conn., 10-4, its players walked from the dugout and the Lionville players were waiting for them, with their bats raised in the air as a way to honor their new friends after the team’s last game on the Bristol field.
“It was like they were knighting us walking out of the dugout,” Newton SouthEast coach John Taft said. “It was absolutely amazing. I can’t say enough.”
After the loss, Newton SouthEast was informed that it would be honored at Fenway Park and at the State House for winning the Massachusetts state championship.
Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.