North Gwinnett travel softball team finishes 5th at nationals

SUWANEE -- Sometimes the best compliments come from an opposing team.

For the North Gwinnett Blaze, a travel softball team of girls 12-and-under, they came from a coach of a team based in St. Louis.

"The heart these girls have, and the coaching these girls have, if there's one team that I'd like to see make the finals, it's you guys," coach Chris Wilbur said.

The Blaze, based out of George Pierce Park, last week finished fifth in an Amateur Softball Association of America 12-U Fastpitch National Championship in Moline, Ill. The tournament consisted of 83 teams from 20 states.

After a bye, the Blaze went 5-2 with wins over teams from Illinois, California, Ohio, Georgia, Missouri and Texas. It lost to two teams from California.

"We like to say, 'Shut them down on defense and talk with our bats,'" Wilbur said.

Many of the team's players have been together for seven and eight years as they began in T-ball leagues at George Pierce Park. Seven players of the team attend North Gwinntt High School. The core of this group, though, has been together for about two years when it became a travel team.

In its second year competing in a 10-U division, the Blaze advanced to a national tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn.

But before this season, Wilbur said he wouldn't have imagined a top finish.

"If you would have told me we'd finish fifth, back then, I would have thought you were crazy," he said.