In some ways it seems like the PGF Nationals have been around forever and in some ways it seems like they just started a year or two ago.
Actually, it’s 10 years of great competition for the event that was spearheaded by Gary Haning and Dan Hay and first was launched in 2000.
I’m been at all 10 years—wasn’t hard as I lived in Huntington Beach up until last summer!—and will be on hand once again for the prestigious event hitting Birthday #10.
Thinking back on the great games, teams and players, here are some of my favorites that come to mind.
But first, check out this great video PGF produced showcasing what the PGF Nationals and PGF All-American Game have come to mean in the sport:
Here are some of my favorite memories when I think of PGF Nationals... my personal 10-for-10 (one for each year)...
--- Brentt Eads, Extra Inning Softball
1. The Beginning… Year 1
The very first PGF Nationals was much smaller than the vast event it is today--only two championship games were held, at 18U and 16U. I was working at ESPN at the time and no one knew really what to make of it. However, it would quickly become the top nationals club event of the sport and what I remember from the first year was the quality of teams plus the production: all the teams marched in a parade down Main Street of Huntington Beach to the beach for a big opening ceremony. We knew then that PGF Nationals would be special… yea, having the beach and the So Cal weather doesn’t hurt you kick off an event.
2. The So Cal Athletics Dominance
If you know your 18U Premier history, you know that the Bruce Richardson-coached Athletics won the first four National Championships. They were the paradigm everyone was shooting for and the team was stacked with talent including Delanie Gourley who was part of three of the first four titles (2011-2013). I can’t remember too many more dominant summers than the one in 2013 when Gourley, who would go on to have a great career with the Florida Gators, was simply the top player in the tournament.
3. The Upsets… Gotta Love Them!
It’s not like the teams in the PGF Nationals are seeded, but you pretty well have a good idea of who the powers and favorites are going to be: the OC Batbusters, Firecrackers, Athletics, Corona Angels, Bandits, Thunderbolts, Georgia Impact, Bullets, etc. In 2013, I was at a game where a strong Corona Angels team was upset by an “upstart” team from the East Coast, the Lady Lightning coached by John Corn. What I remember most from the game though is the excitement of Coach Corn and his players. You’d have thought they won the WCWS! It was sport at its purest and most fun, watching the reaction of the team which would go on to finish 9th at 18U and become one of the top teams themselves in the country over the last decade.
4. Megan Faraimo Gets The Trophy
Megan Faraimo is one of the top pitchers in the game today, having been the Gatorade National Player of the Year in 2018, looking great as a freshman at UCLA this spring and doing well this summer for the U-19 Women’s National Team. In 2014, her 14U Corona Angels team won the National Championship and she was all but untouchable. At the awards ceremony on the field after the game, Coach Marty Tyson said Megan had “carried the team on her back” and he gave her the team trophy! She was that important to the team’s suc
5. Best Team of All Time?
After the four-year run at 18U of the So Cal A’s, the OC Batbusters won the next two in 2014 and 2015. Coached by two of the top coaches in the sport, Gary Haning and Mike Stith, the Batbusters won both of the championships by shutouts and were loaded with some of the top players then and now: pitcher Taylor McQuillin, outfielders Amanda Lorenz and Alyssa Palomino, catcher Morganne Flores and many more. In my opinion, this team was the best I’ve seen in the 10 years of PGF Nationals.
6. Tampa Mustangs – TJ Makes The Greatest Run
In 2015, the Tampa Mustangs 16U coached by T.J. Goelz made the usually fatal mistake of losing its first game in bracket play—it was even a play-in game. It’s usually extremely hard to win it all out of the Loser’s Bracket, but the Mustangs proceeded to run off 11 straight wins, including two one-run games in ITB against the Winner’s Bracket champs before going to the Premier Championship Game and winning 1-0 over a great Beverly Bandits-Team DeMarini squad led by pitcher Meghan Beaubien, now at Michigan. The Mustangs had two outstanding pitchers in Claire Feldman and Cassidy Davis and offensively had Kinsey Goelz (who just this week transferred to Florida). Kinsey had the game’s only RBI to help the Mustangs
7. "Where Do You Want to Go For Dinner?"
I may have the facts a bit wrong, but the essence of the following story is true, one of my favorite PGF Nationals anecdotes ever: in the 2016 PGF 18U Premier National Championship game, the Firecrackers-Rico team was clinging to a lead late in the game. The California Cruisers got runners on base and pitcher Brooke Vestal was looking a bit tired. Pitching coach Rob Weil (who is now the head coach of the Firecrackers team along with Tony Rico) came out to settle Vestal down. Instead of giving a pep talk or providing pitching instructions, he said: “I’m getting hungry, where do you want to go to dinner after the game.” The tension was cut, Vestal closed the door and the Firecrackers won 2-0.
8. The Upstart Texas Dirt Divas
There have been upsets every year, of course, but no one expected the one-team organization that was the Texas Dirt Divas 14U team to have a chance to win the PGF Nationals in 2017… but they did, beating the very strong OC Batbusters – Campbell team 4-3. In a day where some of the biggest programs have dozens, even hundreds, of teams across the country, it was a win for the under-dog, little guys that the Divas could win on such a prestigious stage. It just showed that JD Chandler's team had the right stuff: talent, chemistry and momentum... a formula that all team's can believe in and hope to emulate.
9. Taylor Dockins
If Taylor Dockins’ story isn’t made into a movie, then I’d be surprised. I remember in the summer of 2016 when Taylor was suddenly stricken with pains in Colorado while playing for the So Cal Choppers. She was diagnosed with liver cancer and I spoke to her that summer at PGF Nationals during a Choppers game when she was in street clothes and the future looked uncertain. I was amazed and inspired by her cheerful, positive outlook—she remains to this day one of the most bright, energetic people (not players… people) I’ve ever known, even in the face of having to undergo treatment including radiation and chemo. As if her emotional and spiritual strength wasn’t enough, she came back the next year and played tremendously for Norco High to earn Gatorade National Player of the Year honors. Taylor even impressed in the PGF Nationals for the Choppers and played in the PGF All-American Game. Then, cue movie music, she pitched a no-hitter her first game for Long Beach State! She continues to play for the Titans and inspire…
10. The Georgia Impact-Lewis Wins One For the South
Last year one memory stands out above all overs for me in a humorous way: the 18U Premier Game was a great one as the OC Batbusters-Stith team, having played five games in the Loser’s Bracket the day before, was making a game of it against the Patrick Lewis-led George Impact squad in the title game televised on ESPN. I was on the field down the left field line waiting for the game to end and it looked good for the Impact as Kelley Lynch—this year’s Gatorade National Player of the Year—was in the circle. A hard-hit shot was hit to shortstop Skylar Wallace who stabbed the ball and threw to first, only to have the ball dropped. Skylar turned her back to the infield and muttered something that, let’s just say is more HBO-appropriate than to be repeated here. Third baseman Charla Echols calmed down her competitive teammate and Lynch closed the door, giving the South its first 18U PGF Nationals crown after the Beverly Bandits the year before became the first non-California team to win the highest level of the prestigious tournament. Those three, incidentally, are now shining for the USA Softball U-19 Women's National Team.
What is your favorite PGF Nationals memory? E-mail me, I’d love to hear what you have to say! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org