New Zealand's 19-and-under national team is part of the 14-team field.
One of the major highlights of the area fast-pitch softball season will take place this weekend in Kelso, Mo.
The 21st annual Kelso Klassic, a 14-team event featuring squads from three states along with an entry from New Zealand will be Friday through Sunday on two fields at the Kelso City Park.
Admission is $2 for adults, while children ages 12 and under admitted free.
"I expect another outstanding tournament," assistant director Rick Heuring said. "If the weather is warm and sunny and it doesn't rain, we should have great crowds."
Heuring believes the pretournament favorite just might be The Freight of Vandalia, Ill., which won the 2003 Kelso Klassic and placed 13th in the 2004 ASA Major National Tournament. The squad is led by pitcher Alan Meinhart, the all-time Klassic strikeout leader with 264. He is 23-7 in Klassic competition.
Another pretournament favorite is the Memphis (Tenn.) Posse, the highest-finishing returning team from last year. The Posse placed fourth.
Considered a major threat is the New Zealand 19-and-under national squad, which is on a North American tour in preparation for competition in the ISC Junior Men's World Championship, to be played later this month in Canada.
"All players were hand-selected and are considered to be the best in a country where softball is the national game," Heuring said. "All their players are highly skilled. They have excellent pitching, great defense and a lot of speed, and they will definitely be the youngest team in the tournament."
Heuring said the New Zealand squad originally contacted Klassic officials about entering the tournament.
"They were looking for games to play before they prepared for the world tournament, and one of the player's uncles who lives in St. Louis had played in our tournament before," Heuring said.
A five-time Klassic winner, Nokomis (Ill.) Bud Light, returns with many of the players who were responsible for those titles.
Another past tournament champion is Wolfpack Fastpitch from Smithton, Ill., which captured the 2000 crown.
The host team, Kelso Fastpitch, will try to become the first local squad to win the championship since Kohlfield Distributing prevailed in 1997.
Other tournament entries are Broncos Fastpitch from Cerro Gordo, Ill.; Graff Pepsi from Brookfield, Mo.; the Springfield (Mo.) Parrots; Black Gold from Hermann, Mo.; The Memphis (Tenn.) Pomen; Budweiser from Herrin, Ill.; Ward Chrysler from Elkville, Ill.; and Lee's Sports from Radom, Ill.
The tournament kicks off Friday with four first-round games. At 8 p.m., Kelso Fastpitch plays New Zealand and Nokomis Bud Light faces Memphis Pomen. At 9:30 p.m., it's Smithton Wolfpack Fastpitch vs. Herrin Budweiser and Radom Lee's Sports vs. Cerro Gordo Broncos Fastpitch.
The opening round concludes at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, with the Springfield Parrots playing Hermann Black Gold and Brookfield Graff Pepsi taking on Elkville Ward Chrysler. Two teams that drew a first-round bye -- the Memphis Posse and The Vandalia Freight -- play see their first tournament action at 10 a.m. against opponents to be determined.
Action continues most of Saturday, culminating with the winners bracket semifinals at 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Play Sunday begins at 9 a.m. The winners bracket final is schedued for noon, followed by the losers bracket title game at 1:30 p.m. and the championship at 3 p.m. The if-necessary title contest would follow at 4:30 p.m.