Nationwide Conference USSSA Gears Up For Its 7th Season

The 2012 Nationwide Conference USSSA season kicked off March 30th with the "Sin City Classic" at the beautiful Big League Dreams Park in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nationwide Conference USSSA is a league of the top 40 men's slow pitch softball teams from 23 different states. Each team that joins the league plays in a minimum of 6 or more Conference tournaments out of 23 tournaments scheduled across the country. Their top 6 tournament point totals are tallied and the top 16 teams in the point standings battle it out for the Major World Series championship held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports stadium in Kissimmee, Florida September 19-23.

This year’s schedule features the most prestigious tournaments across the country like the Smoky Mountain Classic in Maryville, Tennessee and the Dudley Budweiser tournament in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. The Conference also returns to Maryland and a new location in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Since the leagues inception in 2006, the Conference has grown in both the number of teams and the quality of teams every year.

Resmondo returns to defend their #1 ranking and World Series title after going an incredible 70-8 last year. They lose longtime outfielder Brian Rainwater and middle infielder Bryson Baker. They pick up Ronald "Bubba" Mack to play middle infield and former GTL center fielder Tim Howard to replace Rainwater. The core of Resmondo remains reason¬able intact with Dedonatis Jr at SS, Andy Purcell at pitcher, and Greg Connell holding down the coveted two spot in the lineup. Resmondo should get tested and pushed to their limit on both 300 foot fields and baseball fields by the #2 ranked team Laservision, making for an interesting season for sure.

Brett Helmer and his main sponsor Pierre Alfred have assembled a team of equal talent to Resmondo. Brett grabbed top up and coming players like short¬stop Kevin Kennington, infielder Sam Lopez, and first baseman Ryan Thiede to go with his standard major stars Rick Baker, Brian Wegman, Jason Kendrick, Dal Beggs, and Scott Kirby. Then he "iced the cake" by adding pitcher Geno Buck, outfielder Brian Rainwater, and middle infielder Bryson Baker. This team is stacked deep with talent, experience, and a hunger to win. Now they have to execute, learn their roles, and play team ball a FULL 6 months.

Nordkap arrives on the scene of the Major division with a mix of top young major players handpicked from across the rosters of all teams that played last season. The sponsorship group grabbed Kevin Filby, OF Donovan Pokraka, IF Joey Formosa, SS Anthony Dress, and OF Mike Bowlin from last year’s #2 team GTL. Then they grabbed IF Chris Hansen and pitcher Chad Munger from Wood Law. Travis Clark and Brett McCollum from EWS and IF JD Genter, CF Brian Zirkle, and Tyson Steele from the top 'A' teams. Nordkap is the big question mark in the Conference. They are loaded with talent and have the pitching to pull some upsets and challenge the two top teams but I feel this team is one or two years away from challenging for the World Series title. I hope I am wrong and this team pulls together and each of them step up their game yet another notch.

Team Combat returns with a new look Major classified team. They are mixing in some young up and coming players with their veteran Combat major players Scott Brown, OF Johnny McCraw, SS Jeff McGavin, pitcher Derek Warren and Mike Dill. They have the Canadian contingent – Jeff Gare and Franck Henry, and the younger players like third baseman Frank Yeilding, outfielder Joey Smith, left hand power hitter Casey Rogowski, as well as some new names to the Conference – Brandon Perry and Davis Bilardello. To start the season this will be an A+ to Major- type team that is building for the future of the Major division.

Team 454 led by manager Tim Taylor and third baseman/ sponsor Bill Rhew return to defend their 'A' World champion¬ship. They do so with 9 players from last year’s team. They lose outfielder Bubba Mack and center fielder Evan Gallmeier but they pickup former GTL outfielder Jason Branch, and major stars Rusty Bumgardner and Jeff Hall as well as "Mr. Defense" – middle infielder – Matt Pesso. They also added outfielders Matt Bunn and Jesse Harrison. Their infield defense with shortstop Kevin Bazat may be as good as any in the game and if Rusty and Jeff can find their role in the offense then this is your #1 ranked 'A' team in the country.

Shoppe has assembled a near perfect 'A' team with a great defense to get them back to the top of the 'A' division they used to rule year in and year out. The offense will be led by table setter Eric Thompson, third baseman Lee Powers and power hitter Tim Cocco. Throw in Robert Blackburn who finally looks healthy for an entire season and this team is stacked. Defensively they added Chente Granados and Tony Mack as well as pitcher Dan Sanchez. If there is one weakness it could be the offensive inconsistency of the bottom few players in the lineup.

R&M has re-tooled after their impressive second half of 2011 where they nearly won the 'A' World in both USSSA and ASA, and won the 'A' bracket of the Conference Championships. They add a whole bunch of top 'A' talent from Sinister, EWS, and Laser Vision and on paper they have a roster that can compete toe to toe with the top of the 'A' division.

The 2011 Suncoast and TYJA sponsors merge and put together yet another all-star team. The top players from each team are joined by TYJA reps Jeff Wallace and Dennis Rulli. We defi¬nitely have to wait and see how this mix gels. The talent is defi-nitely there to make a run but you have 'B' players moving up, major players moving down, and sponsor/managers merging.

Taylormade lost Robert Blackburn and SS Kevin Kennington as well as their west coast duo of Johnny Bailey and Eli Aguilar. But this team re-tools again with some quality pickups like infielder Chris Kirian, former Resmondo player Mike Rhines, and the return of outfielder Chad McLamb. This team finished 2nd at the Major World Series last year after finishing the regular season in 20th place in the points. Look for them to have a better regular season than last year and look for the young players to all take it up a notch.

Sonny's will need to rebound from a lackluster 2nd half of 2011. They had a couple more sticks in Chris Greinert, Jonathan Lenz and speedy outfielder Nick Robertson, but lost the Granados.

brothers from the team that finished 5th in the computer rank¬ings a year ago. A western heavy schedule could give them a shot at some good tournament finishes and some confidence heading into 'A' Worlds.

Ca Sports joins the Conference as an good 'A' team. A veteran bunch led by major players Ryan Robbins and Brian Justice. A middle infield of Brian Blount, Josh Riley, and Matt Crawford is solid. The question mark here will be USSSA pitching and the fact they will be the lowest 'A' seed at most tournaments until they score some points since they were not in the Conference last year.

Blitz steps up to the 'A' division after a 'B' World title in 2011. They bring back a large core of the players that won that title, plus they add veteran Major and Major Watch List players Dan Bean, Brad Reckart, and Shane Hatfield. The entire team except for Bean is from the Cincinnati, Ohio area. This team has the potential for having great chemistry and should be a tough team to beat in the midwest tournaments. If they can get off to a quick start they have a chance to finish in the top 10 in the rankings…that is a big "IF".

Team DeMarini is a new Conference 'A' team with plenty of offense and I'm guessing a west coast schedule that could allow them to rack up points similar to what Sonny's did a year ago and make the top 10. Led by veteran sluggers Chris Larsen, Seth Stephens, new Long Haul Bomber Ed Vega, and pitcher Brendt Newbill, this team could contend at any tour¬nament where the top major teams don't show. They have a core of young and talented outfielders in Adam Elliot (#7 on the Major prospect list), Kaeo Rubin, and Bryce Oliviera. They also have Pat Paschal who showed some great offense at the Major World Series last year. The rest of the players I am not familiar with and thus the #13 ranking. This team is mixing some good Major players with some good 'B' and 'A' players and it will be interesting to see if the 'B' guys can raise their game and if the Major guys can be patient and carry the team when they do not.

West Coast is my pick for top ranked 'B' team in the Conference. With a ton of 'A' experience in OF Eli Aguilar and IF Johnny Bailey from Taylormade, and veterans like IF Julio Salazar, SS Rafael Robledo, pitcher Robert Sena, and some others like Mario Granados, Johnny Gallegos and Cal Ford this team is set for a run. Then throw in the defense of some young players like MI Aaron Martinez, 3B Rego Nieto, and outfielder Brian Munson and you have yourself a stacked team that will more than likely finish ahead of some of the 'A' teams. Oh yes, almost forgot the leadoff hitting of Steven Lopez. Wow, nice team.

FBI is back in a big way as they pick up Greg Hartwick, Tim Bowser, and Pat Burton among others. This team is set for a 'B' World run. Look for them to compete well at the events where there are no major teams and slip into the World Series.

You can follow the 2012 Nationwide Conference season with USSSAToday magazine, usssatoday.com, SoftballCenter.com, and ConferenceUSSSA.com – Tournament reports, broadcasts, pictures, and video clips.

About USSSA:

The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), headquartered in Osceola County, Florida, USSSA is the World's Largest Multi-sport Athletic Organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 3.7 million participants, competing in 13 nationally sanctioned sports including Baseball, Fastpitch, Slow Pitch, Karate, Basketball, Soccer and more! For more information on USSSA and to register your team visit USSSA.com. Also be sure to visit USSSAToday.com for the latest USSSA News!