A quartet of Sequim High softball stars - the heart of the order on perhaps the best prep team in Washington state to not make the state tournament - are engaged in the kind of chatter reserved for the dugout in a midseason blowout.
Answering one question turns into a four-part diatribe about everything under the Sequim sun, from the qualities of a certain local player to the inequities of practice field usage and lack of fences at their high school field, and so on. And so on. And on.
As much as they like to talk and as much as they like each other, they also like to play the game. Fortunately for a couple of summer league club softball teams, they're particularly talented at all of the above.
Pitcher Demiree Briones joins sisters Madison and Rylleigh Zbaraschuk on the Diamond Dusters, a Tacoma-based select team, as they battle the best young softball squads at the USA/ASA Fast Pitch National Championships, 16U division, at College Station, Texas, in early August.
Prep teammate Lea Hopson, a former member of a Diamond Duster club, is on her way to nationals too, as a member of the Rainiers from Seattle.
Club play for best of best
Summer softball play is exponentially tougher than in high school, an aspect welcomed by these ballplayers.
"It's more serious," Madison Zbaraschuk says. "The pitching's better. The hitting is better."
"Everything is better," her sister Rylleigh chimes in.
"You play more games and it's way more fun," says Briones, adding, "and you get to travel."
Hopson, who slugged her way to a .720 batting average, 13 home runs and 46 RBIs for the Wolves as a junior - and in the process earned co-MVP honors in the Olympic League - plays shortstop and third base for the Rainiers. She played with a Diamond Duster squad (the organization has several teams) before joining the Seattle-based team that she practices with each Tuesday.
Hopson's new club took top honors at a regional tournament for their national berth.
Madison Zbaraschuk primarily bats cleanup for the Wolves. A summer league player since she was 9, she slugged her way to a .550 average, five homers and 23 RBIs this spring, earning first team all-league honors. A senior-to-be at Sequim High, she's already talking to college coaches and hopes to sign by the fall.
As with her high school team, Madison plays catcher for the Dusters, a team she practices with three times a week.
"It's very tiring (but) I like a good workout," she says. "I get to call (the game)."
Her sister Rylleigh, a summer league player since she was 7, spent much of the early prep season recovering from a hand injury, then went on to hit .420 and earn an all-league honorable mention.
She says she enjoys playing on the same teams as her big sister.
"We're good (although) we've had our moments," Rylleigh says.
Briones, a summer league player since age 8, was 12-1 with a 0.12 earned-run-average this spring, garnering 86 strikeouts. She was named to the Olympic League first team.
Briones normally plays for the Acers fastpitch club out of Auburn but is "picking up" with the Diamond Dusters this summer for the national tourney.
"The coach asked me if I wanted to go to nationals," Briones says. "It's a great opportunity."
Setting the bar
Seeing four players from the little town of Sequim compete on youth softball's biggest stage shouldn't be much of a surprise to those who have seen the Wolves slug their way to a 37-14 record in the past two seasons and four state tourney appearances since 2004.
It was just two months ago, however, that the Wolves felt they were robbed of another state appearance, getting eliminated at a rain-shortened West Central District tourney. Weather allowed just a handful of games, turning the normally double-elimination bracket into a single elimination one. Sequim fell 1-0 to state-bound, top-seeded Steilacoom and never got a chance to make up for it.
Amid her teammates' chorus of jovial banter, Briones, a sophomore last spring and the team's ace starter, recalls her frustration at the tourney.
"That's why we should have beat (Olympic League champs) North Mason in the regular season," Briones says, still clearly disappointed. "We would have made it to state."
Fortunately for the Wolves, most of those players are coming back in 2011.
But these Wolves have a chance for diamond glory well before then, competing against the top teams in the nation in Texas.
More than 150 teams are slated to battle at various fields at College Station. Pool play starts Aug. 2 with championship and consolation finals set for Aug. 8.
To follow the Diamond Dusters, the Rainiers and the rest of the national tournament, see www.cstx.gov/tournaments.