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Angels Gold vies for national title
0724 angels gold
The Angels Gold 18u team is in Oklahoma City to play for a chance at the ASA Gold Nationals championship. Front row, from left to right are: Tiffany Howard, Kiauna Chang, Jamie Daniel and Cheyenne Marsh; second row, left to right: Sierra Cornell, Nicole Brock, AJ Hamilton, Kelsi Chandler and coach Katie Rietkovich; and third row, left to right: Sierra McMillian, Tori Bates, Caroline Taylor, Lindsey Wilcox and Lindsey Johnson. Not pictured are Heather Ellis and coach Ty Rietkovich. - photo by Photo provided

In youth girls fastpitch softball, the best players on the best teams all strive for the same goal and that is to make it ASA Nationals.  For those elite players, most of whom are headed to college programs down the road, that goal is ASA 18u Gold Nationals.

Only a few individual players from the area, such as Kat Dotson and Katie Rietkovich, have gone to ASA Gold Nationals. No team from South Georgia had won a berth until this year.

The 2012 Angels Gold team won a berth in the ASA Gold Sector Tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla., in June, one of six berths given that weekend.  With teams from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all striving for the same thing, the Angels Gold were able to go through their bracket undefeated and win the coveted prize, a trip to Oklahoma City.

Through this week, they will play three pool games and try to advance through the double elimination bracket to the championship next July 28.  All games will be played in the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium Complex in Oklahoma City.

Delete- Merge Up
“This is the fifth year in a row that the Angels Organization has had a team try to qualify for Gold Nationals,” said executive director and team manager Ty Rietkovich. “When we first started, many people around here told us we were stupid because no one had ever tried it. But we did it anyway, and now we proved all of them wrong. Our players and organization took the lead long before anyone else in this area of the state thought about it. We took the tougher road in hopes that it would help our girls stake their claim as solid players and it did, but it was not easy.

“We knew this level was where the best girls in our area deserved to play and be seen. This group of girls believed from the beginning that they could be the first team to do it and they did. I am very proud of them and their efforts. They are going to represent South Georgia as best they can and I know they will give a great effort. They are going to be up against 64 of the best teams from around the country. We will not be afraid; we will take the field against anyone and stand toe-to-toe. Those people who don’t already know who the Angels are and where we are from will after this week. This is a crowning achievement for many of these girls, and I could not be prouder. This puts us with and as one of the top organizations in the country.”

 All but four of the players on the 2012 Angels Gold roster are headed to college this fall. The Angels are led by all-state and Auburn bound Tiffany Howard.

“Tiffany sets the plate for us on offense,” Rietkovich said. “She is a special player with special talents and I look for her to really turn some heads in OKC.” 

Also on this team are future Georgia Southern players Lindsey Wilcox from Hazelhurst and AJ Hamilton from Tallahassee, Fla.

“Lindsey and AJ are going to be headline makers at GSU,” Rietkovich said. “(GSU coach) Annie Smith is really excited about both of them and she should, they are good players.”

Another leader on the team is Cheyenne Marsh from Richmond Hill, who is headed to Brenau University in the fall.

“Cheyenne is one of the real leaders of this group and someone who is really going to make a name for herself in college,” Rietkovich said. “She is so versatile and I think will really stand out this week.”

 Three of the four non-seniors on the team, and players who hope to do this again next year, make up the pitching staff. Tori Bates from Coffee County, Jamie Daniel from Pike County and Nicole Brock from South Effingham have been brilliant in the circle all season. All three will be seniors this year.

“By some standards it is a little odd that three underclassmen are our main pitchers,” Rietkovich said, “but these three have really complemented each other well and done a great job. All three have different styles and quite often we go into games knowing we will use two or three of them, just to keep teams off balance.”

The other rising senior is infielder Caroline Taylor from Bacon County, who has already committed to Mercer University.

“I am also very proud because Katie has taken charge of this group, selected and recruited many of the players on it and been an instrumental force in coaching, motivating and leading this team,” Rietkovich said of his eldest daughter. In these girls’ eyes, she is the head coach and she takes that role very seriously. Even though she is still a player in college, they don’t see her that way.

“She takes great pride in returning to her roots of travel softball and leading this team. She believes it is her role to help others when there was not anyone like that when she was coming through. College coaches throughout the Southeast trust Katie and her teaching techniques, so it carries over to these players and their approach of the game. I am there for game management, but I pretty much let her run things. She has her finger on the pulse of this team, and it got us this far, so we will see how that goes in OKC.

“Kelvin Wilcox coached and carried this team through the spring to help them be ready for the summer and really did an outstanding job. He worked with them and with Katie throughout the spring to make sure we would have a chance. I was lucky to have him there to take charge during the college season while Katie and I were busy.”

 The Angels organization has sent or wil be sending 53 players to college programs since 2008 after former South Effingham star pitcher Courtney Jenkins signed with East Georgia and  Taylor Butler of Bryan County and Anna Jackson of Metter each made verbal commitments. Butler committed to South Georgia and Jackson committed to East Georgia.