When they head to Chattanooga, Tenn., today, the Quad City Firebirds' 10-under fastpitch softball team has an excellent shot at doing something no local team has done for 20 years.
That's bringing home an Amateur Softball Association national championship, a feat last performed by Moreland Fink's Rock Island Rookies on the 16-18 level back in 1978.
Last summer, the 12-under Milan Aces brought the National Softball Association's World Series title back to the Quad-Cities for the first national fastpitch crown of any kind since '78, but no team has won the ASA's biggest prize since Fink's club pulled off that accomplishment.
Forty teams, including the Firebirds, will head to Chattanooga for the 10-under National Tournament, which gets underway Tuesday with opening ceremonies and pool play. Pool play games continue through Wednesday, with double-elimination play starting Thursday and going through next Sunday.
With a 46-1 record, including a perfect 6-0 mark in the 1998 ASA postseason, Firebirds' manager Bruce Wild has good reason to be pumped up about his team's national-title chances.
``In Illinois, 10-under softball is a relatively new thing,'' Wild stated. ``So it's hard to know what teams are the powerhouses. There'll be teams from California, Texas and Arizona, but I think we've got a good shot at doing well. It all depends on what level our kids can reach.''
Throughout the Firebirds' run to the state and Midwest Regional championships, pitchers Jenna Howard, Melissa Krueger and Lara Applegate have taken their play to a higher level, aided by catchers Katie Cooney and Briana Martin.
Howard won twice at last weekend's Midwest Regional in the Chicago suburb of Orland Park, including a two-hit, 13-strikeout effort in Quad City's 10-1 rout of the Oak Park Windmills in the championship contest. Krueger and Applegate each picked up one victory.
``Our pitchers have been on, and they have to stay on at the national tournament,'' said Wild. ``Our pitchers have been great, and both our offense and defense are doing well. Right now, we've got everything going for us.''
Catchers Cooney and Martin, besides their splendid work behind the plate, have also been among the team's top offensive threats throughout the postseason, along with all three Firebird hurlers.
Also swinging mean bats for the Firebirds have been outfielders Tara Miller and Lindsey Coward and second baseman Amanda Terrell. The rest of the QC squad has contributed all season and has settled into their roles on the squad.
``I'm proud of all the girls; they've done an outstanding job,'' said Wild, who is assisted by coaches Bob Applegate and Don Krueger. ``Everybody's still progressing, everybody has a winning attitude and they're all very coachable. All of the girls and their parents are just great, and I'm real happy with all of them.
``Hopefully it'll all pay off for us (at Nationals).''
While competing at the National Tournament level might be a daunting task for some teams, Wild feels his charges are as relaxed as can be, and ready to play softball.
``They don't seem nervous to me, but they probably don't know what's out there,'' he stated. ``We want to be there (at Chattanooga) the entire weekend, but we've reached all of our goals for the season. From here on in, everything's like a dream.
``We're already at the top of our mountain. The rest is just extra for us.''
But if the Firebirds return from Tennessee with an ASA National Championship trophy in tow, they will find themselves at a summit that has been rarely scaled by Quad-City teams.