KELSO, Mo. -- The Heartland Nationals, a local 12-and-under girls fastpitch team, have earned a return trip to the Babe Ruth Softball World Series to be played this weekend and next week at Cherry Hill, N.J.
The Nationals, comprised of Babe Ruth League all-stars from Oran, Scott City, New Hamburg, Benton and Kelso, were a first-time participant in the 2004 Series.
While going 0-2 in last year's double-elimination tournament, the Nationals will try to make it sweeter the second time around.
"Let's put that in perspective," said assistant coach Tony Powell of Sikeston. "All across America, only 10 teams get to go. Just to get there is an honor.
"We hope to play a little better this time. We're all a little smarter. Last year, we kind of went into it blind. Now, with a few of the girls and some parents that have been there before, we've got a little better idea of what to expect and how to prepare.
"Last year, everybody was in shellshock."
Returning players from the 2004 team are catcher Amanda Williams, first baseman Kristen Powell and shortstop Jane Morrill.
Catcher Lindsey Hadley, infielder/outfielder Haley Glastetter, infielder/outfielder Kaitlin Glastetter, outfielder Stacey Heisserer, outfielder Macy Heisserer, pitcher/outfielder Brooke Glastetter, infielder/outfielder Danielle Dock, pitcher/infielder Danielle Gibbons and pitcher/infielder Rachel Reed complete a versatile roster of players, most capable of manning several positions.
The Nationals are managed by Sandy Gibbons, who is assisted by Larry Gibbons, Mike Reed and Powell.
On the road to the World Series, the Nationals won the state tournament in Monett, Mo., with a 4-0 record and advanced to the Midwest Plains Regional in Burlington, Colo.
They again posted a 4-0 mark in a field of eight regional competitors from Kansas and Colorado. Their most severe test came in a matchup against the East Central Colorado state champs. The Nationals prevailed with a 2-0 victory.
On Friday, opening day of the Series, 10 teams -- eight regional champions, the host New Jersey state champion and the host Cherry Hill team -- will begin pool play.
The Nationals meet the Middle Atlantic Regional champion on Friday at 2:30 p.m. in the first of four pool-play games, followed by contests against the Ohio Valley, Southeast and Pacific Southwest regional champions.
The top three teams in two pool divisions, the American and National, advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament which begins on Wednesday. The championship game will be Aug. 20, at 1 p.m.
The tournament began in 1999, and the first softball World Series champion was Manassas, Va., followed by a run of four straight crowns for Pitt County, N.C. Mattoon, Ill., is the defending champion.
The Nationals depart Wednesday with one goal in mind, to have their names inscribed on the Honor Roll of World Champions.
"These girls are athletic and they have a heart for the game," Powell said. "They love the game and they love to play."