Commentary

FAB 50 showdowns coming at Faster To 1st

Updated: March 25, 2009, 9:11 PM ET
By Garland Cooper | ESPNRISE.com

Editor's note: The ESPN RISE FAB 50 softball rankings are compiled by Garland Cooper and Mark Tennis, with contributions from Paul Muyskens. They will be released each Wednesday throughout the season.

It's rare indeed when it's early in the season and perhaps the most significant tournament in the nation only days away.

[+] EnlargeDestiny Rodino
Scott Kurtz/ESPNRISEDestiny Rodino leads ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 5 William S. Hart.

This is what organizers of the Nike Faster to First softball tournament, which starts on Thursday in Huntington Beach, Calif., had in mind. Collect a group of top teams from the softball hotbed of Southern California, bring in top teams from the rest of the country and see what happens. It's the same formula that has worked so well for the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona in girls basketball.

In last year's inaugural event, Pembroke Pines Charter (Fla.) ventured out west and went home with a championship after a victory over Sheldon (Sacramento, Calif.) in the final.

Pembroke Pines will not be back to defend its title, but Sheldon returns for another shot. Head coach Mary Jo Truesdale's Huskies are the No. 1 team in the ESPN RISE FAB 50 and have gotten off to 4-0 start to the season.

With pitcher Jolene Henderson and catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt, both of whom have signed with Cal, the Huskies boast the nation's most celebrated battery. The duo may not be enough to carry the team to a Faster to First title, not because of the intense competition, but that there is a lot of inexperience in other positions.

If Sheldon stumbles, among those poised to grab the title and move up to No. 1, are fellow Faster to First tournament participants Norco (Calif.), Hart (Newhall, Calif.), Sunnyslope (Phoenix) and Valencia (Calif.). Norco already has won the prestigious Bullhead City tournament in Arizona. In this weeek's FAB 50, those teams are No. 4, No. 5, No. 9 and No. 12, respectively.

In addition to having five of the nation's top 12 teams, this weekend's Faster to First tournament will have seven of the top 25 and 11 of the FAB 50. Those entrants are No. 24 Sunrise Mountain (Peoria, Ariz.); No. 25 Simi Valley (Calif.); No. 33 Freedom (Oakley, Calif.); No. 35 Piedra Vista (Farmington, N.M.); No. 38 Ayala (Chino Hills, Calif.) and No. 39 Vista Murrieta (Murrieta, Calif.).

Of course, some of the unranked teams could just as easily step up and make a deep run, which was what happened last year when Ayala (Chino Hills, Calif.) posted a series of upsets and made it into the semifinals. The host school for the event, Canyon (Anaheim, Calif.), could be a candidate for that after starting out this season at 5-4.

Check out the complete Week 1 FAB 50 here.