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By JASON KING - The Kansas City Star
Losing will do that to a coach like Gregg -- a guy who is used to winning. One year your fifth in the nation, the next you can't win a meaningless practice game.
"You kind of start to question yourself," Gregg said. "You wonder if it is time to call it quits."
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," second baseman Kendra Power said. "It was just a whole different team. Errors, bickering, everything. But then..."
Then something extraordinary happened. Facing elimination, the Lasers won 10 consecutive games in the losers' bracket and earned a third-place finish in the 84-team tournament.
"I still can't believe it," pitcher Katie Gregg said. "To do something like that, you have to have everything going for you. We were yelling for each other, we had confidence. And we were having fun again."
Considering the Lasers' talent-laden roster, third place didn't seen farfetched for Gregg's team as it entered the tournament.
The pitching staff features two of the area's best hurlers in Notre Dame de Sion's Gregg (28-8) and Truman ace Tracie Tiensvold (29-8, 0.44 ERA).
Raytown shortstop Jessica Leslie, who has committed to national champion Oklahoma, ended the summer with a team-high .384 batting average. Power (.284) and Raytown South center fielder Crystal Gentry (.301) are two of the metro area's most talked about up-and-comers.
Still, Katie Gregg said, there was something else that separated the Lasers from the others in the area -- something most coaches dream about but never attain.
"Talent is one thing," Katie Gregg said. "But to do something like we did, you have to have something going for you mentally, too. Even when we're not playing softball, we're thinking about it. We're visualizing situations and at-bats and winning. You have to go out there thinking you're going to win."
All summer the Lasers did just that. They qualified for nationals in early June by winning a tournament in Wichita Falls, Texas. That forced the team to withdraw from a bundle of other qualifiers during the next several weeks. Still, even though they were basically palying for fun after that, the Lasers kept their intensity and continued to win over area teams.
That ended for a few days at nationals. But after a few team meetings and time for soul-searching, the Lasers remembered what got them there.
The team's 10 straight victories included three wins on Saturday and four on championship Sunday. Casual fans who had never heard of the Lasers became fans. One guy even gave up his tickets to watch the U.S. Olympic squad, which was playing in nearby Bloomington, Ill., so he could stay and support his new favorite 18-and-under team.
"I think we gained some respect," Power said.
And they certainly deserved it.
Highlights of the week included a game-winning home run by first baseman Carly Lang -- her first of the season -- and nine extra-base hits by Tanner.
"It still hasn't sunk in yet, " said Mike Gregg, whose team finished fifth at the 16-and-under nationals in 1998. "They bonded together at just the right time. That's why they played so doggone good. They fought for each other."
By the time the Lasers fell to the Omaha Echoes on Sunday -- their fifth game of the day -- Gregg's team had lost its oomph. Gentry had returned to Kansas City the night before of dehydration, and Herriott could barely lift her glove behind the plate.
"I had a bruise on my thigh, my shins hurt, and I had tendinitis in my shoulder," said Power, who attends Park Hill. "But it was worth it. Every bruise, every scrape. It was worth it."