Twisters celebrate homecoming after ‘legendary’ season
     2013-08-15      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Terry Gaston/for the Citizen - Members of the Twisters 16-under fast-pitch softball team from Scotts Bluff County, holding some of their awards from their memory-filled 82-9-1 season from late spring through this summer, are: Isabel Thompson of Gering, MiKayla Butler of Gering, Barbara Calvert of Scottsbluff with the Mountain States championship trophy, Jessica Rogers of Gering with the USSSA World Series runner-up trophy, Katie Howell of Morrill with the USSSA Nebraska State Tournament championship trophy, and sisters Mikka and Alex Salazar of Scottsbluff. Not pictured is Lourdes Martinez of Scottsbluff. 
How does a player who participated on a traveling fast-pitch softball team describe her season that included 82 wins out of 92 games, two state championships, eight straight tournament victories and nine tourney championships overall?

“Unreal?” said Barbara Calvert, the center fielder for the Twisters 16-under fast-pitch team, whose players gathered Saturday at Arby’s in Scottsbluff to celebrate their boatload of accomplishments that they completed Aug. 3 with their fifth-place finish in the ASA Northern Nationals in Pekin, Ill.

Rob Barney, sports director for KNEB radio, broadcasted the Twisters’ nine games from the Northern Nationals, of which Arby’s was the primary sponsor for the broadcasts.

“It’s definitely something I would have never dreamed coming into the season,” said Calvert, who will be a junior at Scottsbluff High School this year.

“I think we were successful, not only because of each of our physical abilities, but because of how well we came together as a group,” Calvert said. “I think that really, really helped, and we really trust each other and we really do trust each other.”

In that final tournament, the Twisters started out with three wins before a loss put them into the elimination bracket. After fending off four opponents in the elimination bracket — in what the Twisters called “Survival Saturday,” all with barely any time between games — a loss in that fifth game that Saturday ended their season at 82-9-1.

So, again, how do you describe this team — composed of players from Torrington, Gering, Scottsbluff, Morrill and Alliance — and its success?

“I think what made this memorable was the challenge we overcame during nationals and how we managed to play with each other that whole day and not give up, and we left everything on the field that day,” said Mikka Salazar, who played primarily at catcher and will be a senior at SHS this school year.

“I think that was the best we’ve done as a team together, even though we didn’t win. I think we accomplished our goals as a team.”

Before earning fifth place in the ASA Northern Nationals, the Twisters were runners-up in the USSSA World Series in Tulsa, Okla.
They won both the USSSA Nebraska State Tournament and the ASA Mountain States Tournament in Loveland, Colo., the final two championships in their consecutive streak of eight tournament titles.

Entering the USSSA World Series, the Twisters had a 47-game winning streak — with just one loss in 65 games — before a tie in pool play. The Twisters still remained unbeaten in 53 games before they lost in the championship semifinals, their first setback since May 12. They lost to the same Joplin, Mo., based team in the finals.

Some may describe these accomplishments as phenomenal.

“Phenomenal?” left fielder Isabel Thompson pondered. “I don’t think so. I think this year was probably legendary. If you put the same together next year, I don’t think we would accomplish what we did. We could, but we just had so much magic on the field this year that it’s probably impossible to recreate.”

Such statistics as having 30 shutouts, including a streak of 13 out of 14 games, while averaging 8.7 runs per game and allowing less than 1.9 runs per opponent would definitely be hard to duplicate.

“We knew coming into the season that this was going to be a big season,” said Thompson, who will be a junior at Gering High School this year. “We had a big season last year, but this season we added more tournaments and we took that step of going to two national tournaments in a row. So we knew it was going to be a big difference.

“We anticipated wins because we worked really hard, but we didn’t anticipate like a 40-game winning streak.”

“We didn’t even realize we had a winning streak until our coaches pointed it out, and it was pretty cool to keep it going,” said pitcher Mikayla Butler, who transferred to Gering last year from Southeast High in Yoder in order to play softball at the high school level.

Jessica Rogers, who will be a Gering junior this fall, said the Twisters coaches and the players melded so well that they expected and achieved success, on and off the field.

“I think the way the coaches taught us and how the team bonded so well, we always had each other’s back for everything,” said Rogers, who played shortstop this summer and will be back at catcher for Gering this fall.

“All of my teammates inspire me. They all know how to pick me up when I’m down, and we all do the same for each other. We were just making memories with everyone, doing well. It was all pretty fun.”

“I think we had so much success because we played as a family,” Thompson said. “We had so much chemistry as a team that it feels like we’re playing with my best friends for fun every game.

“I’ll remember it for the fun times we had together off the field, because when we’re together for weeks on end, we just do things that made for awesome memories that we’re going to have because we’re pretty much like sisters.”

Speaking of relatives, Thompson had cousins Mikka Salazar and freshman sister Alex, plus Calvert, as Twisters teammates.

“It was a really good experience because I saw the older girls playing and I know what to do right,” Alex Salazar said. “I thought we gave it all and everybody got a chance to play. All the girls had a good relationship.”

Alex Salazar joined the Twisters after practicing with Mikka and the other players. “She was just practicing with us and they wanted to make her a member of the team,” Mikka said.

“I’m close to everybody and they treat me like their little sister,” Alex said of having a favorite teammate. “But I have to say my sister, because she is the one who got me into (the team).

“I never expected to be on a team like this, especially with how young I am, and it just made me realize how hard the girls wanted it and I just watched them follow through.”

Mikka Salazar mentioned Katie Howell of Morrill as being an inspirational teammate.

“I think the girl on the bench who makes everybody step back and look at the big picture, when everybody is getting too serious, I think it’s Katie,” Mikka Salazar said. “All of us could have been having a bad day, but then she just says something and it lightens up the mood.”

“Sometimes it takes you a second to get what she’s saying, but it’s good because it takes you from being stressed out and realize you are there. I think she was the heart and soul of our team.”

“They’re all my friends,” said Howell, who will be a junior at Morrill after primarily playing in the outfield and as a utility player this summer. “Sometimes I can tell when the girls are down.
When they mess up on a play and the come back to the dugout hanging their heads, I will say ‘Get it next time, fix it up.’”

After having to play on the junior varsity last season, Butler is ready to bring the success she had with the Twisters.

“We’ve definitely accomplished a lot from our past national tournaments,” Butler said. “Everybody pushes each other. We have great coaching, and our whole team gets along together. We bond perfectly, and I think that’s what helps us get along.”

While the Twisters’ season is over, the memories made will last a lifetime.

“It’s definitely something I’ll never forget,” Calvert said. “It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime deal, just all the memories and all the friends we made out of it, and it’s something that’s a lot bigger than just softball.”

“I’m still kind of absorbing it right now,” Rogers said. “It’s a big deal. It’s like a dream that we played in. I just can’t believe it’s over now.”

The Salazars teamed up to summarize what hard work can pay off with the success the Twisters achieved.

“Our practices were three hours,” Alex said. “We all wanted (success), so we all tried hard to make it work.”

Mikka added: Not only our hard work, but all of us loved being with each other. We all had fun with each other on the field, and if there wasn’t good chemistry I don’t think we would have gone as far as we did. So I think it was because we all get along so well.”

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