The 14-and-under Lawrence Phenix have suffered three tough losses in this week's North American Fastpitch Association's "B" National Championships.
Over 60 teams from five states wrapped up pool play Wednesday at the Clinton Lake Softball Complex. The double-elimination bracket began Wednesday night.
The 14-and-under Phenix lost both of their games Tuesday, falling 1-0 to the Omaha Quakes White and 6-0 to the Oklahoma Twisters. On Wednesday, in their final game of pool play, the Phenix were overwhelmed by the Mound View Mustangs, 11-0.
But despite the Phenix's tournament struggles, this season has been a major success for second baseman Alexis Finucane and catcher Alex Hill, both 14.
"I've seen so much improvement from these two this year," coach Pete Ramler said. "They've really come into their own."
Both girls have been playing competitive softball for three years, but really hit their stride this season.
"I've played a lot more second base this year, and I think that helped me improve a lot," Finucane said. "I'm diving a lot more and stopping more than I could before."
"Alexis really found her spot on the field," Ramler said. "She has really helped solidify my infield this season."
For Hill, called "X" by her teammates, improving was just a matter of getting more comfortable behind the plate.
"Catching really took off for me this season," she said. "We would do this one thing in practice where I would sit there and the team would throw balls at me without my glove on. It helped me a lot and made me less afraid of the ball."
Hill's improvement has made her a vital asset for her team.
"We would have a very hard time winning without her catching," Ramler said. "She's smart, she's quick, and she's the toughest kid out there physically and mentally."
Hill has particularly helped her team by calling the pitches.
"She knows both of our pitchers well and their strengths and weaknesses," Ramler said. "She's good at evaluating hitters and pitching to that."
Finucane's best accomplishment this season came last weekend at the NAFA state championship. There, in the silver-division championship game, Finucane hit a two-out, two-strike double to turn a 5-2 deficit into a 5-all tie in a game the Phenix eventually won, 7-6, in extra innings.
"She really gave us the momentum we needed," Ramler said, "and we ended up winning the game."
"It was just really fun to be down and then come back," Finucane said.
The 14-and-under Phenix open the double-elimination bracket at 2 p.m. today against the Nebraska Storm Black.