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JCHS boys gain valuable experience in meeting with Gate City

For many of the players on Johnson County’s softball team the season ends with the school year, but for a couple of dedicated players like Brianna Snyder and Abby Reece, the end of the regular season is only the beginning of their time on the field. Playing travel ball and weekend tournaments all the way into the fall, these two girls have been greatly improving their skills in the game, competing alongside some of the best players the region has to offer.
“I’ve been playing with a couple of different teams the last few years,” Reece said. “I’ve played with some out of Bristol, some out of Virginia. I either just keep playing with the same teams or sometimes migrate from other teams but I try to play as much as I can. Right now I’m playing on Vengeance, which is a 16 and under team. We’ve been doing pretty well. The last time we played we got second place, so it’s been good.”
Separated into age groups, Snyder just moved up to join her classmate on Vengeance after leaving Eclipse, a 14 and under team in Johnson City. Coached by Cal Klem, Snyder quickly rose to become one of that teams best players, switching between pitching and holding first base. “Brianna has done very well,” Klem said. “I know that if it hits anywhere near first base she’s going to catch it. I can’t tell you the number of times that she lays down or stretches to make the play. She is just a very hard working and dedicated kid. These kids really amaze me about how when it comes down to game time they just get it. Brianna has been an absolute great addition. The kids have embraced her just because of the effort she puts into her game. When you are surrounded by a kid that works that hard it makes everybody better.”
Like all travel teams, Eclipse was made up of players from schools all around the area, giving Snyder the chance to not only play against but also alongside a wide variety of players from very different backgrounds. Ironically, when Snyder and her father Rick first discovered the team they had actually been on a losing streak. “They actually found us at a tournament,” Klem said. “She was watching us play and we had just gotten beat when Brianna’s dad came by and asked me if we had room for another player. I said yeah what we really need is another pitcher, and he said well you’ve got one right here. I asked him why me, we just got beaten and he replied that it looks like you all were having fun. It looks like you care about the kids and they care about you and I’m looking for that kind of place for my daughter to play. I invited her to come to tryouts. At first she didn’t know anyone and it took a practice or two for her to begin to fit in but she pitched lights out this past weekend and actually ended up shutting down the team that won the tournament 3 to 0.”
That tournament was one of the last of the season and was held at Winged Deer Park in Johnson City. Playing against one of the better teams in the region, the Thunder from southwest Virginia, Eclipse had their hands full, but with four wins out of five games, the team made a strong run for the championship. “They’re a very, very solid ball team. We beat them 3-0 with Brianna pitching and that was the only three runs that had given up until then. It ended up being 3-2 in the championship game. We were tough. The girls worked really hard and they’ve come a long way. We’re trying to work towards building a team for when the 14 and under national tournament is held here next year in Johnson City,” said Klem.
Unfortunately for Eclipse, with Snyder now in her Freshman year of high school, she was forced to move to a higher age group and a new team. Choosing Vengeance alongside Abby Reece, Snyder admits that it is still too early to know much about the new team. “I’ve only played one tournament with them,” Snyder said. “It wasn’t a real good indicator because it was mixed with some of the younger age groups, but I can tell they’re a lot more organized.”
For Reece, regardless of what the team is like, the chance to get out on the field and be a part of the game makes it all worthwhile. “I’m always looking forward to how I play in fall ball,” Reece said. “Travel ball gives me a lot more experience and always gets me pumped, being able to use those same skills in the regular season. I actually prefer fall ball, just because there are more games and its very quick. Its all about the short game, compared to the regular season where you focus on one win every few days.”
Both girls noted the differences between playing in the off-season and playing during the school year, including the fact that they are thrown into a mix of players that they don’t know from a wide variety of backgrounds. “You may not know the girls as well but you learn to put your trust in them,” Reece said. “You hope that they perform their duties at their spot. You are more focused on your own ability and playing your position the best you can, rather than the team as a whole. You think more about yourself, things like ‘I have to pick up my slack.’”
Snyder echoed this sentiment, adding the benefit of getting to play against a very diverse group of competitors as well. “You play competitive teams that aren’t from around here,” said Snyder, “teams from out of state. Fall ball is a good attitude adjustment. I went into it not knowing anyone and so I had to learn how they all worked. It’s definitely harder to go and play with a group of people you don’t know, but I think it was really a good thing for me.”
The exposure to such a different set of talent combined with the added time on the field is what makes fall ball so important to improving the skills and ability of these players. “It’s really a different kind of competition from regular school ball because every weekend is like a new season,” said Klem. “It gives them reps, it’s giving them game experience where in school ball there is so much pressure to perform and now when they get up with the bases loaded its not the first time they’ve been there. The neat thing about this type of game is that if you have a bad weekend you can forget about it and come back the next weekend as though it’s a whole new season. It could be good or could be bad but you just go on.”
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