BRAKETTES DIDN'T WIN ASA TOURNEY, BUT THEY DID WIN BACK THEIR FANS
If you were asked to describe the 1996 Brakettes women's fastpitch softball season in one word it would have to be - REMARKABLE! And that's stating it mildly.
One month before the scheduled season-opener, the Brakettes didn't have a sponsor, players, or a schedule. Following their financial rescue by Bob Wirz and David Carpenter, two area businessmen and sports enthusiasts, it was time for Field Manager John Stratton and General Manager Bob Baird to go to work.
Three months later, after the dust had settled at AlliedSignal Field in Stratford, where the National ASA Championship Tournament was staged, the Brakettes had capped off a remarkable season with a 7th place finish in the event. Considering the Brakettes were forced to rebuild an entire ballclub in only four weeks, their performance before thousands of softball fans speaks highly of Stratton's organizational and managerial talents.
"It was an exciting year," said Stratton, who had faced a similar project in 1976 when the Brakettes had to rebuild from scratch and then won the National title. "No one knew what to expect. Things were so hectic that everyone on the team didn't know each other's names for about two weeks. The night before our June 1 opener against Keene, NH, was the first and only time we got together before we played. I remember we lost the opening game 9-0, but we came back to win the nightcap 1-0 and the next day we split the weekend series. It wasn't vintage Brakettes, but it was the foundation for a new era in team history."
With the assistance of player/coach Patti Femandes, Stratton was able to mold the players into a cohesive unit that represented the Brakettes' tradition in superb fashion during the season. The regular-season saw the Brakettes compile a 28-6-1 overall record. Four of those losses were by one run. In the National event the Brakettes split four games, but it was a come-from-behind losers' bracket victory on Sunday, August 18 that once again won back the support of the team's strong following.
While the Brakettes have always enjoyed excellent fan support, their loyal following had difficulty accepting the fact that it was Jen Huyett, Ravella Gericke and Sarah Maida on the mound and not Lisa Femandez, Lori Harrigan, Michele Collins, or Sheri Kempf. No longer would Doreen Denmon be stationed behind the plate, that spot was now reserved for Debra Larson. Instead of Sheila Cornell, Dionna Harris, Dot Richardson and Tricia Popowski, the Brakettes looked to rookies Jenn Goodwin, Kristine MacLean, Allyson Johnson and Alison Hirsch. It was difficult for our fans, but they remained loyal and most of all, patient.
After opening the ASA meet with an 11-0 win over Celina, OH, the Brakettes dropped a close 2-1 decision to the California Hurricanes, setting up an elimination round game with the Topton, PA, VIPs at Short Beach Field. Trailing 1-0 with one out in the bottom of the seventh, and with only one hit to that point, the Brakettes were on the verge of ouster. MacLean's RBI single tied the game and the team magically won it in the eighth with Andrea D'Innocenzo scoring the game-winner on an infield error.
Despite the fact the Brakettes lost the next day to eventual runnerup California Jazz, 4-0, the team had regained that almost magical touch. And, in the process, the new-look Brakettes also had won back their fans.