Berry had recently accepted the head coaching job at Harding University and would not coach the Vipers the following season. Despite the team’s finish in its first appearance at the 16U ASA nationals, they had put together an impressive season up until that point, so Berry knew what the team was capable of accomplishing.
His parting words still resonated with assistant coach Todd Jennings, who would take over the Vipers in 2013.
“(Berry) told the team that he was going to Harding,” Jennings recalled. “But, when he was done talking to them, he told them that his last wish was for the team to stay together and come back and win nationals next year, and that’s what they did.”
The Atlanta Vipers not only won the title, they did so in dominating fashion, outscoring opponents 83-26 in the winners’ bracket to capture the ASA 16U National Championship, July 29 to Aug. 4 in Sunnyvale, Calif. The Vipers, who went 8-0 in the double-elimination 137-team tournament, beat Lady Magic, a travel team out of Rocklin, Calif., 9-5 in the championship final. The Vipers also beat Lady Magic 18-3 in the winners’ bracket final earlier on Aug. 4.
“It was a tough bracket and we beat some very good teams,” Jennings said. “There were some expectations on us to do well because now we were a second year 16U team and one of the favorites going in.
“I knew we had some big hitters, and it was amazing to see how every kid on the team had a big moment in a game at some point. Whether it was hitting, pitching or defense, every kid got it done somehow and that’s what makes me so proud as a coach.”
Based out of Sugar Hill, the Vipers held summer practices at Sprayberry and Peachridge Ridge throughout their travel ball season. Cobb County players on the roster included Lassiter’s Carli Kayler, Hillgrove teammates Abby Evans and Rachel Jarvis and Harrison teammates Bridgette Rainey and Sierra Maddox.
“This was a once in a lifetime moment for these girls,” Jennings said. “It’s what they dream of. Only a select few teams get to qualify and to win a tournament like this against that many teams is amazing.”
The Vipers outscored opponents 19-4 to win their four-team pool play bracket and shut out three teams in the winner’s bracket. The team averaged 10.4 runs per game. Their closet victory was a 7-6 second round triumph over Texas Sudden Impact of The Woodlands, Texas.
“The key for us was definitely hitting, without a doubt,” Jennings said. “We were explosive. Even the ASA folks out there were saying they’ve never seen a team with as much run production as we had.”
Maddox was especially excited for the championship and saw the opportunity to win it all the closer the team got to the championship.
“I had been trying to win something like (a national championship) for 10 years,” said Maddox, who started playing softball when she was three. “I knew we had the potential to win because we had been playing well all season. And when we got there, we were hitting the ball so hard, that the closer we got to the final game, it just got more and more awesome.”
Rainey was the starting pitcher for the final contest against Lady Magic. Although she was initially nervous to take the circle, she felt confident about the team.
“I had a lot of butterflies, but I knew I had the best hitters and the best defense in the nation behind me,” she said. “We were on such a roll at that point, I knew that we had worked hard enough all year that this wasn’t goitn to get away from us.”
Jennings’ Vipers ASA 16U national championship came one week after Greg Giles’ Atlanta Vipers team took home the ASA 18U Gold national title in Clearwater, Fla. The Vipers travel program also had its 14-and-under team win the Premier Girls Fastpitch championship last season.
Jennings’ and Giles’ Vipers squads become the third Georgia travel softball teams to win an ASA national championship. The first Georgia team to take home a national crown was the East Cobb Bullets, who won the 18U Gold title at Lost Mountain Park in Powder Springs in 2010.
“From an organizational standpoint, the Vipers have been successful in developing kids who have been together for a while,” Jennings said. “The chemistry is there, and they know how to get it done.”