This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the team's status among softball teams in Columbia.
COLUMBIA — The tall pitcher from the Tulsa team threw balls they had never seen before. The rise ball was especially difficult to hit, with Missouri Stealth players continually striking out.
But trailing late in the game during a national tournament in San Jose, Calif., last summer, Missouri Stealth's 16A team rallied back to tie the score. The Stealth didn't win the game, but the Columbia-based squad showed the type of competitiveness that has served it well when it competes both regionally and nationally.
Teamwork and cohesiveness are some of the elements that set Stealth apart from other travel softball teams in Missouri, the team's players said.
The team that placed 24th out of 154 last year in California was a group of girls 16 years old or younger, but there are 11 total Stealth travel teams, spanning ages 10-and-under to 18.
About 100 girls showed up for the first Missouri Stealth team open tryouts for the 2014-2015 season Sunday evening at the Daniel Boone Little League fields.
Why so popular?
Not only do the Stealth teams win plenty of games on the field, they also have a pretty good record at sending players to the next level. Every high school graduate from 2013 and 2014 has received multiple college scholarships, coach Greg Logsdon said.
Logsdon advertises the Missouri Stealth program as a path for high school girls to play college ball, and a way for younger girls to develop their skills. It formed in 2011, when Logsdon gathered a team of girls 14-and-under who played against 16-year-olds all summer long.
Logsdon said they chose to play up a level mainly because the 16-and-under team was the most heavily recruited age group by college coaches.
"We thought the talent pool in mid-Missouri is very rich and overlooked by college coaches," said Logsdon, who is also the owner of Log Hill Properties in Columbia. "We wanted to provide an avenue for them, give them quality instruction and showcase them to college coaches from all over the country."
The cost of the program depends on the amount each team travels. Logsdon said that his players over the past four years have been charged an annual cost of roughly $550. Players must pay from their own pockets when they travel to showcases.
That might seem like a big expense, but many players eventually benefit financially through college scholarships.
Stealth coach Cat Lee, a former Missouri softball player who graduated in 2011, sees value in the program in its ability to help young players realize their potential and connect with college coaches.
"It's not about if they can play softball in college, it's about where they can play in college," Lee said.
Stealth players perform at showcases as a platform to leap off into college playing careers. From around Memorial Day to the end of July, four teams from the Stealth program, the 16A, 16 Gold, 96 18A and 95 Gold, travel to two showcases per month in cities such as Chattanooga, Tenn., Denver, San Jose, Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta.
Winning is irrelevant in showcases, Logsdon said. The main objective is to perform in front of college coaches from NCAA Division I or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics teams who use the showcases to scout and recruit players.
The classes of 2013 and 2014 prove Stealth's mission. All three of the 2013 graduates, the organization's first graduating class, have received multiple college scholarships. Those three players are MU infielder Natalie Fleming, Saint Louis catcher Hailey Weavers and Columbia College outfielder Carly Spalding.
All 11 of the 2014 graduates have also received college scholarships, Logsdon said, and there are some class of 2015 players who have already committed to colleges. Logsdon said the rate of college scholarships is comparable to the top teams in Kansas City and St. Louis.
Because of its proximity to a major university with a winning softball program, Missouri Stealth's location is advantageous. In the four years Stealth has been in existence, the organization has received advice and lessons from Tigers coaches and players.
Logsdon said that MU coach Ehren Earleywine and assistant coach Pete D'Amour helped him build Stealth and are available for help whenever he has any questions. That's not a bad group of mentors, considering the Tigers reached six straight Super Regionals from 2008 to 2013.
In addition to softball camps hosted by Missouri, some Stealth players receive private individual instruction.
"The one-on-one lessons made me the pitcher that I am," said 2014 graduate Conner Logsdon, coach Greg Logsdon's daughter. "I did hundreds of drills, and there were lessons without throwing a single full pitch. (Missouri softball pitching consultant Doug Gillis) taught me detail mechanics and helped me perfect spins and speeds."
Obviously, receiving advice from high-level college coaches is beneficial. And it's not a luxury that every youth program has at its disposal.
Former 16U assistant coach David Schulte said that the lessons from those in the Missouri program bring something extra that the Stealth coaches can't necessarily provide.
"They look at the small things that the other coaches don't catch, such as a base-running mistake or a glitch in the swing approach." Schulte said. "Also the prestige of seeing Division I players come out and work with the girls willingly makes the girls think, 'I'm worth it.'"
Paying attention to the small details is what makes the difference between a good and a great team, Lee said. The MU players teach the Stealth athletes the mental side of the game.
"It is about situational softball and knowing what's going on in the game," Lee said. "It's about what situations they need to bunt, where to play a ball that's hit to you, how to get out of a slump."
Stealth coaches are in it because they love the game, Lee said.
Although the Stealth organization receives help from different coaches and players, teamwork and chemistry within are also necessary. Conner Logsdon and fellow 2014 player Dakota Newton said their teammates have been playing with each other for five or six years and have the same common goals, such as getting college exposure and winning.
"It's a second family," Newton said. "We spend so much time together. It's comfortable to know that you have girls on your side that you can rely on and takes the pressure off of you. If one girl walks or gets a single, it sets the tempo."