The Arkansas USSSA will host its second-ever softball tournament Aug. 3. The tournament features the state’s top players and allows each participant to showcase their skills.
The program provides youth from across the state a unique experience, organizer Kara Simmons said, adding that participants not only get to play alongside other top performers, but also have the opportunity to learn additional techniques from college-level coaches.
“It’s a great experience and fun overall for everyone,” Simmons told the Log Cabin Democrat. “Each player gets to play on random teams and people they’ve never played with before. They get to show off their skills and will also gain some.”
The tournament showcases players from across the state who participated in USSSA qualifying events who were nominated by coaches throughout the spring season.
Coaches from opposing teams, umpires and tournament directors nominated the 300 girls from across Arkansas who will participate in the upcoming tournament, which will be held at the City of Colleges Park in Conway.
“They’re kind of the best of the best,” Simmons said of the players who were nominated to participate in the second annual tournament.
There are two divisions per age group.
Tagen Harris, 9, of Guy is among those who were nominated to participate in the upcoming tourney.
The fourth grade Guy Perkins student was at the bat 86 times this year and had a batting average of .686. Harris, who plays for the Thundercats, had six home runs, 33 RBIs, 40 runs scored and also had 14 strike outs. She is a 2018 Central Arkansas Fall Ball state champion and was a 2019 USSSA C Class state runner up.
Primarily, she plays third base but also supports her team as a first base back-up.
Emily Harris, who is Tagen’s mother, said the young Thundercat is “known for her fielding.”
Watching her 9-year-old daughter on the field and at home is inspiring, she said, adding that Tagen helps lead her younger sister and teaches her new techniques.
Tagen is not afraid to be a team player and work toward victory alongside her teammates.
“She can tag out steals from second to third quickly with the help from her amazing catcher, Sophie Bertog,” Emily said. “She also is known for her line drive throws from third to first base, with help from first baseman, Gemma Damron.”
Tagen’s father, Tony, has coached the Thundercats the past two seasons. Emily said her husband made this decision because Tagen “instilled a love of the game into him.”
“I’ve never seen him have a passion for anything like she has helped him have for softball coaching,” Emily said.
The young Thundercat’s love for the game goes beyond perfecting her own stats.
The 9-year-old often practices with her younger sister at home to lend the younger Harris some pointers and guidance.
“Tagen also practices outside every day with Aspen,” Emily told the Log Cabin Democrat. “[Aspen is] 6 and just played her first tournament ever and was 12 for 12 on batting … only because Tagen practices with her every day.”
The Guy-Perkins student has played softball for four years.
One of her favorite parts of the game is playing along Bertog and Damron, she said.
Fielding is the best part of the game because “I like catching balls, throwing to Gemma at first base and getting outs,” she said. From there, she works with Bertog to tag their opponents out at third base.
Having her father as the team’s coach has allowed Tagen to help other members of the team, she said.
“I know most of the drills already and can help the other girls,” she said. “There is nothing I don’t like about him being my coach.”
Learning she was nominated for the second annual USSSA Arkansas All State Show was humbling to the young Thundercat. The nomination was a reminder that she has grown as a player through the years and that countless practices have paid off.
“I was so happy [when I found out] because I’ve gotten a lot better since 6 and under,” Tagen told the Log Cabin of her reaction to being nominated for the tournament. “It lets me know that I have a good attitude. Sometimes, I practice so hard and get so sweaty and stinky. It has helped me be good at softball.”
The sport has taken over Tagen’s life. It’s just who she is. Her father said while he was shocked to learn of the nomination, he was not surprised about his daughter’s accomplishment.
“When I received the email about the nomination, I wasn’t sure how to react,” Tony said. “Tagen gets better every year and dedicates herself more to the sport with each year. She is the only girl I know that at 8 years old would come home and look for either college softball or college baseball on TV everyday.”
Working hard to be better at what she does best is another of Tagen’s qualities.
“She studies the game and has more concept than most,” Tony said. “She has taught me much more than I have taught her in the last four years. Proud is an understatement.”
The 300 girls participating in the Aug. 3 tourney will have the opportunity to move up to the all-region tournament, which will be held Aug. 10 in Texas.
Simmons said the day will be filled with family-friendly activities as the teams take their turn at the bat. Festivities will include face painting, photography, music and college coaches and players will also be onside working with the players and meeting families.