National Heath Care Discounters of Sioux City, Iowa, is to fastpitch softball what the Chicago Bulls are to professional basketball.
NHCD has put together a dynasty the past few years, winning the International Softball Congress World Tournament four of the past five seasons. Last year NHCD won both the ISC and the ASA national fastpitch titles.Needless to say, NHCD will be heavily favored in the annual Pioneer Days Fastpitch Tournament, which begins Friday and runs through Sunday at the Cottonwood Complex.
Four Utah teams will be among the strong 16-team field. Larry H. Miller Toyota is the state's top team and should give NHCD a run for the title, while Page Brake has proven over the years it can play with the nation's best. Miller Chevrolet and Page Brake Under-23 are the other local teams participating.
"NHCD is the best team in the world, no question about it," Miller Toyota coach Gary Cleverly said. "They have to be considered the favorite. Their pitching staff is incredible. They have four of the top six to eight pitchers in the world."
Utah softball fans may remember NHCD from last August when it went unbeaten to win the ISC World Tournament held at the Cottonwood Complex. Since that time the team has gotten even stronger with the addition of pitchers Mike Piechnic and Marty Grant to go along with all-world pitcher Michael White.
"Their big advantage is that they have fresh pitching every game," Cleverly said.
Miller Toyota, on the other hand, relies heavily on ace Peter Meredith. The 6-foot-4 native of New Zealand has long been considered one of the world's best pitchers and has a 22-2 record this year. Meredith's only losses this season came to NHCD (2-0) and to Aurora, Ill. in tournament games.
"Peter has been pitching well this summer. He always keeps us in games until our bats can get going and we can score some runs," Cleverly said.Backing Meredith up are Vaughn Alvey, a veteran Miller Toyota hurler, and newcomer Loren Algar. Miller Toyota's offense has been led by outfielder Steve Roberts, catcher Brad Burrup and infielders Brandon Burt and Brett Alvey (Vaughn Alvey's son).
Miller Toyota will open the tournament Friday at 7 p.m. against a team from New Zealand.
Page Brake is the other local team that is likely to advance to the eight-team championship bracket on Sunday. Page Brake is led by pitcher Neal Chadwick, who has pitched for Miller Toyota in several tournaments this year. Page Brake's first game will be Friday at 9 p.m. against the Black Sox from Las Cruces, N.M.
Larry Miller Chevrolet and Page Brake Under-23 have byes Friday and will open the tournament Saturday.
The Pride of Decatur, Ill., beat Miller Toyota earlier this summer and could challenge for the Pioneer Days title along with the Sioux City Soos and the Vista (Calif.) Bombers. There are two foreign teams in the field of 16, one from Nogales, Mexico and the other from Auckland, New Zealand.
The 16 teams are bracketed into four groups where they will play each team in their group in a round-robin Friday and Saturday. The top two teams from each group will then advance to the single elimination championship bracket Sunday. The championship game is scheduled for 4 p.m.