Softball team sets sights on strong outing at World Series

Thursday, August 2, 2007
Heartland Nationals coach Russell Burger pitched batting practice Tuesday in New Hamburg, Mo. (Kit Doyle)

The Nationals open pool play Friday against Johnson County, N.C.

For some members of the Heartland Nationals softball team, today's flight to North Carolina will be their first big trip.

And the location for the Babe Ruth League World Series for 12-and-under softball -- Wilson, N.C. -- will be tantalizingly close to the Atlantic Ocean.

"The only way we're going to the beach is if we get beat out early," Heartland coach Russell Burger said. "We're hoping not to go to the beach."

Instead, the Heartland Nationals would like to make a long run in the tournament, which begins with pool play Friday. Heartland will have four pool-play games and the top three teams in the two five-team pools will move into the elimination bracket.

ABOVE: Summer Burger, bottom, talked with Heartland Nationals teammates during practice Tuesday. Many girls personalize their helmets with names, numbers and pictures. BELOW: Kacie Gaines practiced bunting, which makes up a large part of fastpitch softball.

They will open 8 p.m. Friday against Johnson County, N.C.

They are off Saturday but play games Sunday, Monday and Tuesday in pool play.

"We want to have fun, take games one by one and hopefully come home with a big trophy," said leadoff hitter Summer Burger, the coach's daughter and younger sister of recent Notre Dame graduate and all-stater Kristain Burger.

In addition to batting leadoff, Summer Burger is part of the Nationals' pitching rotation along with Brandi Glastetter and Ashton Elfrink.

All three players were a part of the Nationals' team that went to the World Series last year and finished 2-2 in pool play, tying for third in the bracket but missing out on a spot in the elimination bracket via tiebreaker.

KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com

Pitt County, N.C., won the tournament in 2006 for the fifth time in seven years. It has an entry this year as well.

Heartland, an all-star team with 12 players from an eight-team league, comes into this year's World Series with a few more games under its belt. Last year's team was 8-0; this year's is 12-2 with a pair of one-run losses to teams from Southern Illinois at a tournament in Cape Girardeau. The Nationals, as regional host, skipped the state tournament before breezing through regionals. The team last week won The Battle of Bluff Tournament in Poplar Bluff, outscoring its three foes 23-13.

"It's kind of like 'Whiteyball,'" Russell Burger said in comparing the fast-pitch game to the 1980s St. Louis Cardinals. "There is a lot of bunting. You go base to base and use your speed, hit line drives and move the runners."

Burger likes the way his team is made up to execute that style of play.

"We have good team speed," he said. "The No. 1 thing so far has been our pitching. We have a lot of speed at the top of the lineup, we have good RBI people in the middle and the defense has been really good, too."

Glastetter attested to that. "I know if I pitch one down the middle, it won't hurt because the defense is always ready."

Glastetter, Burger, Elrink and three other players are from New Hamburg; three are from Oran; one is from Chaffee; and one is from Scott City. The assistant coaches are Shawn Glastetter and Dennis Scheeter.

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