No matter the heat, the 26th annual Parkway Invitational will begin Monday (Aug. 25) with a a strong 16-team field, including Parkway North, which finished fourth in Class 4 last year.
The games will be played at the Manchester Athletic Association Complex and the Ballwin Athletic Association Compex.
At 4 p.m. at Manchester, the first-round games find defending champion De Soto playing Incarnate Word Academy and Hazelwood West facing Parkway West. At 6 p.m. Pattonville meets Parkway South and Francis Howell North plays Ritenour.
At 4 p.m. at Ballwin, Francis Howell faces Mehville and Parkway Central meets Marquette. At 6 p.m., Fort Zumwalt West battles McCluer North and Fort Zumwalt East squares off against Parkway North.
The winners will play at 8 p.m. Monday. Consolation games begin at 4 p.m. Tuesday and the winner’s bracket semifinals are set for 8 p.m. The fifth-place game and third-place games are set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Ballwin. The championship game follows at 8 p.m.
Parkway North coach Amy Doyle said her Vikings are looking forward to doing something that counts.
“Absolutely. After three weeks of preparation, the players are ready to hit the field against an opponent,” Doyle said. “They are really excited to start playing games.”
Parkway Central coach Tim Cerutti, who did not coach last season after undergoing surgery, is eager to get into action as well. The Colts had a game scheduled for Friday but it was cancelled because of the heat.
“It was easy to tell how down the girls were about this,” Cerutti said. “It’s not that they don’t like practice, but they are ready to start playing games. I am chomping at the bit to be on the diamond.”
Parkway South coach Amy Belding said she is impressed with how her girls have gone about getting ready for the season.
“The growth of our girls in the postseason has really shown through in practices,” Belding said. “I am proud of their dedication and work to prepare for our high school season. Although the girls play very competitive summer softball schedules, there is something special about playing for your high school. Our girls are excited to kick off 2014.
“The Parkway Tournament always gives us an opportunity to face teams from all over and to put into action what we have been practicing.”
Doyle said her Vikings have worked hard, too.
“They have been really focused and have worked hard to do everything asked of them,” Doyle said. “I have been impressed with their approach each to make it game-like.”
Parkway West coach Jeff Chazen has an experienced squad of Longhorns. They are looking forward to get going.
“They are ready to start playing,” Chazen said. “At this point, they are tired of practicing and want to play an opponent rather than scrimmage themselves. We have an experienced team that works real hard and yet knows when and how to have fun. If we execute to our potential, this should be a fun season.”
The Colts have made strides in getting ready to play.
“While we have been inconsistent in practice, I’ve been rather impressed with the improvement in hitting,” Cerutti said. “Many of the girls seem markedly ahead of where they were at the end of last season.”
All the coaches agree the tournament field is a good one again. It annually draws in top teams from the area and this year is no exception.
“As in years past, the tournament continues to be a competitive this year,” Doyle said.
Cerutti said he believes Parkway North, which has never won the tournament, is a good choice this time.
“I’d say that Parkway North would have to be the favorite,” Cerutti said. “They are returning from a trip to the Final Four and have all their key pieces returning. De Soto is much the same way and is certainly a favorite capable of winning it all.”
Doyle stayed neutral in predicting the outcome.
“I think any team can be a favorite in the opening tournament of the season,” Doyle said. “This is the time to try any and all combinations offensively and defensively to determine what’s going to work for the rest of the season.”
She does see a way Parkway North can prevail.
“We are going to have to play our game by not worrying about who we are playing and instead focusing on winning every pitch, every out, and every inning,” Doyle said. “Softball is a game of the little things and when you break it down to its smallest components, the only opponent is the ball.”
For Chazen, three teams look to be the favorites.
“DeSoto was strong last season and looks like they return some strong players,” Chazen said. “Parkway North and Parkway South usually do well in this tournament.”
Indeed, the Patriots have had a stranglehold on the top spot in the event. Parkway South has won five of the last seven tournaments. Overall, the Patriots have won the event nine times and have finished second twice.
However, Belding said that is all in the past.
“Our girls are aware of the strong tradition that South has had in the past and they set their expectations high,” Belding said. “The culture of Parkway South Softball is steeped in hard work and supporting each other. We try not to focus too much on the past seasons as a predictor of wins. New girls. New Team. New possibilities.”
Mainly, everyone is just glad to be playing games that count.
“I am always excited to start. Every year is new and different and not knowing what to expect, the drama of sport so to speak, is what I love about softball,” Doyle said. “I am excited to watch the girls go out and play their hearts out.”
After missing out last year, Certutti is anxious himself.
“I think that I am even more eager than the girls to start the season,” Cerutti said. “I know that there are a great many facets of the game on which we still need to work. Hopefully, the first few games will help us find our strengths and point out our weaknesses so that we can work with purpose.”
Belding’s girls got a jump recently when the Patriots hosted a jamboree where they scrimmaged three other schools.
“It was evident that our girls were pretty pumped to start playing games,” Belding said. “The Parkway Tournament always gives us an opportunity to face teams from all over and to put into action what we have been practicing.”