Softball players love tournaments in Steamboat

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— Some of the best fastpitch softball teams in the state will be in Steamboat Springs this weekend for the annual Steamboat Classic.

"It's a fast-paced game with lots of close calls," local player Joe Bender said. "It's a great game to play and to watch."

Bender will be heading up one of two local teams that will play in this weekend's 24- team field. Games will start Saturday morning at Vanatta and Klumker fields at Howelsen. Teams will compete in pool-play action all day Saturday and Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon, the teams will begin a single-elimination championship round.

"I've been playing in this tournament as long as it's been coming to Steamboat," Bender said. "I think that's about 14 years."

Bender's team, the Steamboat local boys, will play in the Men's A division, which will feature 16 teams from all over Colorado.

The EAS Western Slope Knights, also from Steamboat Springs, will play in the eight- team Men's AA division.

"This is one of the most popular tournaments in the state," Knights captain Loren Hochhalter said. "It fills up back in February, March and April."

Hochhalter said if the event had more fields it could be even bigger.

"Players just love to come to Steamboat and have a good time," Hochhalter said.

But because of the timing, the event is limited to just two fields at the base of Howelsen.

"We are going to have six or seven of the top teams in the state here this weekend," Hochhalter said.

Top teams will included the Colorado Rage, Woodley's, the Warriors and the Knights in the Men's AA division. The Rangers, Ted's/Budweiser, RB5X and Ad Wear Advertising are the favorites in the Men's A division.

Bender's Local Boys will be considered a long shot to win a title this year in that division but that didn't seem to matter to the captain.

"We seem to get trounced every year," Bender said. "But we have a lot of fun."

Bender said it's hard in a town like Steamboat to get players ready for a tournament of this caliber. Since there is no local fastpitch league, this event will be a first for many of the players on Bender's team. He recruited most of his players off of local adult baseball teams who have had very little experience with fastpitch softball.

"These guys are playing because they love the game," Bender said. "They want to go out and see if they can hit a ball moving 70-, 80- or 90-mph."

Hochhalter's team has a little more experience on the field playing the game of fastpitch. The squad, which included players from Steamboat, Rifle and Denver, travels around the state and country to different fastpitch events each year.

"This will be our sixth tournament this summer," Hochhalter said.

He added that with state, regional and national championships on the horizon the season will be even more busy until Labor Day.

This weekend's event is sponsored by the North American Fastpitch Association and will be a qualifier for the Nationals which will be played later this summer in Hutchinson, Kan.

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