Between Little League, Babe Ruth and ASA, hundreds of area youths spent their summers reaching for greatness on the diamond.

The accomplishments were many and while a good portion of those at play achieved noteworthy success, none was as impressive as that achieved by Pendleton's Kelli Demianew.

Playing first base and pitcher for the 18 and under Gold Oregon Reign softball team, the Pendleton High senior earned a berth in the National Championship Tournament held at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Complex in Oklahoma City on August 2-9.

"To be on the same field as all those college teams and be in the same dugout, we were just in awe," Demianew said of the team's initial reaction. "It was just a fantastic experience and it's something I wouldn't trade for anything in the world."

Demianew pitched one game at the tournament, picking up a win, and the Reign played to a 33rd-place finish out of 64 teams.

Making the placing more impressive is the fact that the Reign fielded a team mostly of high school players and incoming college freshman. Most of the tournament's top teams were made up of girls that already had a year of college ball under their belts.

The Reign earned their spot in the tournament by winning their bracket at a territorial tournament. Of the 12 spots available for teams in the west, eight came from California.

"We were very surprised we were able to go there just because the Reign team hadn't been in a couple of years," Demianew said. "But then we looked around at the talent we had and we knew we could do well."

The team arrived to the tournament on a Friday and got in a couple of rough practice games before finally settling in.

"Our practice games weren't the best but once we hit the tournament we stepped up," said Demianew, adding the level of play was definitely higher than anything the team had seen in the Northwest.

Demianew said she noticed her own play improving as the tournament went along, too. She had one game going 2 for 3 at the plate and another going 3 for 4, as well as making some nice stops at first base.

"I made some plays I didn't think I could make," she said.

Along with the tournament itself, Demianew said going to the ASA Hall of Fame was an awe-inspiring event as well.

The Reign will return almost their entire team next season, which includes several Oregon Class 6A and 5A first and second-team all-state players. Demianew said the team, which is centered in Eugene, already is talking about a return trip next summer and has tournaments lined up in Huntington Beach, Calif., and Las Vegas for the fall.

The national tournament wasn't the only major trip the team made this summer, though. They went to another tournament in New Jersey, and Demianew said she got a lot of interest from colleges she never would have dreamed of going to but now are on her list as she prepares to make a decision on where to continue her playing career.

Demianew said she wasn't even planning on playing for the Reign, but when the Vancouver Glacier team folded, coach Tom Bequette recommended Demianew for the Reign. She passed her tryout and the rest is history.

But as any parent of a player on a travelling team knows, it takes a lot to make an endeavor like that work.

Demianew's brother Joe, a 1997 Pendleton graduate, lives in Salem so Demianew would drive to his house on Mondays and then attend practice in Eugene Tuesday through Thursday.

She said having that support was huge as she spent more time than not away from home this summer.

"About the only time we saw our girls was at the game," said Demianew's father Russ.

Demianew also said she got a big boost from Pendleton coach-of-all-trades Terri Prouse.

Prouse had been to the national tournament as a player and a coach and Demianew said being able to call her when she needed advice was monumental in keeping her nerves in check.

Demianew said she would encourage any young player wanting to gain more exposure and an unforgettable experience to try her route.

"You never know what's out there until you put yourself out there," she said.

While cost is definitely an issue for some families, Russ said the teams his daughter has been involved with have been very flexible in making sure girls that pass the tryout process get to join.

Between fundraising events, work opportunities and sponsorships, as well as payment plans, he said cost should not stop any girl from trying out.

"There's no doubt it's expensive," Russ said. "But if they really want to go play bad enough there's a way to get money."


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