The Triple Crown Ronald McDonald wrapped up its final slate of games on Sunday. Tournament directors battled weather all weekend long, meaning the sight of sunshine and blue skies were welcomed by everyone in the greater Houston area.
Sunday’s warm weather also meant those who did not see action Saturday were given a chance to showcase talented rosters in front of a bevy of college coaches. While the large majority of teams represent the Lone Star State and its bordering neighbors, the appeal of the Ronald McDonald has historically allured teams from all over the East Coast and as far west as Oregon and California.
“For us, we had two goals this weekend,” said SoCal Choppers head coach Jason Renteria. “The Ronald McDonald always attracts the best teams in the region, so it’s always a benefit to us this early in the fall to see what we have on the roster.
“This tournament also gave us a chance to get everyone on our roster some college exposure. More importantly, because so many colleges are down here, it gives my girls a chance to get seen from colleges outside our area that have programs that the girls are interested in.”
Players and coaches weren’t the only ones happy with the change in climate. Colleges and universities from all levels flocked from around the country to make it to Houston this weekend for an important window in fall recruiting.
“There’s always a ton of talent down here and this tournament did not disappoint in 2018,” said Syracuse assistant coach Vanessa Shippy. “The Scrap Yard is always the place to be this time of year and with so many fields open today, we were able to talk to all these great teams and coaches who are always willing to help out.”
With over 200 teams in action across Saturday and Sunday, you didn’t have to be a power-five school or even a Division-I institution to benefit from Ronald McDonald’s diverse field of fastpitch clubs.
“We really couldn’t have asked for a better weekend for us,” said Jarvis Christian College assistant coach Olinda Molinar. “We’ve been able to see everyone that we’ve been in contact with leading up to the tournament and we’ve stumbled across some players that we hadn’t seen before.”
At its core, the Ronald McDonald is designed to link college coach and athlete with its slate of games. Over the weekend and through all rain, the tournament’s slow start was left in the dust by its equally high-paced finish.
“We’re always looking multiple years ahead to fill roster spots,” said Molinar. “There’s such a great mixture of talent and diversity among teams that year in and year out the Ronald McDonald is the most important recruiting event in our fall schedule. We’ll definitely be back year after year.”
Saturday morning at the Scrap Yard Sports Complex signaled the official start of the 2018 Triple Crown Ronald McDonald tournament. However, this particular Saturday presents a significantly different vibe than most on the Triple Crown schedule of fastpitch events.
Unlike the infamous Sparkler/Fireworks or TC USA Nationals, the final scores of games played in Houston over the weekend are virtually meaningless. For athletes hoping to play ball at the next level and their coaches trying to get them there, the most important number is one, one college scholarship.
As a player, this may sound simple. Apply the old ‘give it 110 percent effort’ and you’ll get noticed in no time. While the mentality of playing your best likely never wavers, staying sharp and executing in the moment can be a tricky task.
Texas Blaze’s Macy Hamilton knows first-hand what it’s like to play in showcase settings like the Ronald McDonald. Though her team couldn’t separate themselves from Impact Gold, playing to a 4-4 tie, Hamilton’s energy, enthusiasm and effort turned heads in the crowd all afternoon long.
“It’s a different type of atmosphere,” said Hamilton. “You definitely get to have more fun but at the same time, you have to stay focused. It’s easy to get distracted.”
If Hamilton was distracted at any point during the afternoon, she certainly didn’t broadcast it. Twice, Hamilton made diving plays in the outfield and routinely showed her aggressiveness on the bases.
“I know that every time I step on to the field it’s about effort,” Hamilton said. “As a team, we know we’ll be there for each other. Even if someone is having an off day, we’re all there for them, especially at a tournament like this.”
Club coaches, though not the star of the show, have an equally important role in getting their players noticed. Turning over lineups, choosing to steal or bunt, and distributing playing time are just some of the decisions a coach has to plan when trying to showcase their players.
“I definitely have a written plan of attack before the weekend begins,” said Blaze head coach Tammie Davis. “We prepare in the same way as we do for any tournament. During the game, however, I am constantly moving players to get them into the right positions.
“At the end of the day, I’m hoping for all of my players to be seen in the best light. Sometimes, that means leaving a player in for an extra inning when they’re doing well as was the case with Macy. At the same time, I might leave someone in the game after they make a mistake because I know they’ll battle back. It’s hyper situational.”
The last part of the puzzle is the college coach themselves. Navigating the sea of hundreds of players requires proper planning and keeping a keen eye for talent and character.
“First off, I start by tracking down the players that I’ve already been looking at,” said Paris Junior College assistant coach Michael Williams. “I always like to get a second look at someone just in case I do want to make them an offer.”
With so much on the line for both the college and the player, it’s no surprise that it might take more than one look for an offer to come down the pipe. That does not mean that an athlete under the radar can’t catch the eye of a coach, and sometimes their actions don’t have to be softball related.
“Of course, we’re looking for talent but we’re also looking at character,” said Williams. “Things like picking up trash in the dugout, being enthusiastic during warmups and how you treat your parents are all factors that us coaches take into account.
“It’s tournaments like the Ronald McDonald that give us the ability to get looks at the players we like and find ones we’ve never seen. It makes the recruiting part of our job a lot easier.”
Heavy rain may have dominated portions of Friday night at the Scrap Yard Sports Complex but the facility just north of downtown Houston was dripping with talent as Triple Crown kicked off its annual Ronald McDonald tournament with a bang.
Four different camps and clinics highlighted the afternoon, featuring some of the best players of the 240-plus teams who are all trying to take advantage of autumn's biggest recruiting window. Putting a cherry on top of an already Texas-sized sundae, fans also got an early look at LSU and Baylor as the two power-five powerhouses dueled deep into the night.
Friday's camps and clinics all spotlighted talent and allowed college coaches and potential superstars to work shoulder to shoulder. Former LSU All-American Brittany Mack was in attendance for her clinic, Concordia University-Texas ran one of its own, and so to did Blinn College as a host of coaches banded together to give unsigned seniors special instruction.
“I think all of us here want to play at the next level,” said Bailey Barrile, who attended the Blinn College camp. “For me, I think that my relationship with my coach is going to be the most important part in finding the right fit for a potential college. These types of camps let me see what coaches are like during a practice-like type of setting.”
Barrile, who hopes to join her brother down the road in College Station at Texas A&M, is already keen to the multitude of possibilities that a junior college can provide. However, not all youngsters nor their parents fully understand what colleges like Blinn have to offer.
“Parents and kids tend to disregard [junior colleges] because we’re not a four-year institution,” said Blinn’s head coach Rick Church. “Two years ago, Triple Crown and Jonathan [Lampl] allowed us to come in and work with these girls. It also gave us a chance to educate everyone that junior colleges have scholarships, we have great education and we can be a direct path to some of the top softball schools in the nation.”
On the opposite corner of the complex while current LSU players were busy giving a brief glimpse into was its 2019 season might hold, Brittany Mack was more concerned with sharing her wisdom with the next generation of softball greats.
“I love to teach and I love being a mentor to anyone,” said Mack, the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NPF draft. “I also want to make sure girls are doing things right and learning the right fundamentals.”
True to her word, slated to wrap up at 8 p.m. locally, Mack stayed at the complex for almost an hour extra, working overtime to make sure each one of her pitchers left with a sense of progress. With games on deck all weekend and a lengthy list of college coaches on hand to recruit, Mack knows more than most just how important the finer details can be over the next couple of days.
“Ever since I was a little kid, [the Ronald McDonald] has been one of the biggest college recruiting events of the fall,” Mack explained. “There’s a ton of games and a lot of fields with colleges representing every division here to watch.
“As important it is for these girls to demonstrate their skill, it’s equally important to show off who they are as a person. If I left them with anything tonight, I hope that they know they cannot be perfect, ever. No coach would expect them to be.”
Pressure to perform on a high level will heighten on Saturday and Sunday but Friday night’s positive effects can already be seen and heard from those who took the chance to participate.
“The coaches made us feel so comfortable,” said Jacelyn Lees. “I want to play softball in college and I can’t think of a better way to interact one-on-one with these coaches before I get there.”
“If you’re coming to the TC Ronald McDonald, you can’t miss this,” said Kaylee Anzalone. “The coaches take time to tell you what you’re doing wrong or what you’re doing right and how to become even better.”