As a 16-and-under unit in 2011, the Vipers finished fourth nationally at the Amateur Softball Association 16U Class A national tournament, then followed up with a fifth-place showing at last season’s 18U Gold tournament.
When the Vipers qualified for this year’s 18U Gold tournament in Clearwater, Fla., the only question was how high they would finish this time around.
The team answered with a 3-2 victory over Wagners Gold (Fla.) in the finals Saturday to capture a national title — the second for the Vipers travel program, which saw its 14-and-under team win the Premier Girls Fastpitch championship last season.
Giles’ Kennesaw-based Vipers team became the second Cobb County team to win the 18U Gold championship. The East Cobb Bullets won at Lost Mountain Park in Powder Springs in 2010, becoming the first Georgia travel team to take home a national title.
“Our girls were so experienced and had played at the national level before,” said Giles on what he felt were some of the keys to the team’s victory. “They’ve played in high-end showcase events and in front of big crowds before against top competition. It didn’t affect their game.
“They knew how to handle their business. We had great pitching and we played great defense, and that’s what wins championships. We had the offense going and we caught some lucky breaks, so that also helped propel us. We had timely hitting, we hit well and the girls rose to the occasion. I’m just really proud of them.”
The Vipers went 2-1 in pool play, outscoring their opponents 17-8, to set up their position in the 64-team championship bracket. They then went 7-0 in the championship rounds and outscored the opposition 33-7 along the way.
The Vipers trailed Wagners Gold 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning when Madison Whitmire hit a one-out, two-run home run to put the Vipers on top.
Megan Betsa, who allowed one unearned run in 6 2/3 innings of relief, retired Wagners in order in the seventh, giving the Vipers the title.
“At times, it was nerve-racking, but our pitchers and hitters did what they needed to do,” Giles said. “They were ready for this season. The players were focused at the very beginning of the tournament and were determined to be there at the end. It was their time to win it.”
For two of the 15 players on the roster, the victory couldn’t have come at a better time.
Former Allatoona catcher Jessie Finch spent time on the Chris Dean-coached Vipers program before playing for Giles’ squad this season.
“To come out of that tournament with a national championship was just awesome,” said Finch, a rising freshman at North Georgia. “The tournament really brought us all together. We went through so many ups and downs. I’m grateful to be able to call these girls my sisters.”
The moment was even more special for another recent high school graduate. Harrison’s Kaci Giles was able to win the crown with her father at the helm.
“My dad has always been an amazing coach,” said Kaci Giles, who will be playing at Morehead State in the spring. “I always knew he had to put the team before me and he did a great job. It’s a great feeling of belief, excitement and joy to have spent this time with him.”
Several of the players had been a part of Giles’ Vipers squad since they were 12 years old, so, not only was the experience of being in pressure situations familiar, everyone understood the sacrifices made to get to that title.
“The commitment these players and parents and coaches make to get to this level is incredible,” Greg Giles said. “They could be doing something else, but they chose this. It’s awesome for them to be national champions.”