July 1, 2016
World Cup of Softball XI Schedule
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The World Cup of Softball XI will begin Tuesday July 5 at the ASA Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City. 13 teams from around the world will be participating in the six-day tournament, and Marshall will be well represented.
Two current and one former Marshall softball players will be taking the field for three different countries. Herd rising senior Morgan Zerkle (Milton, W.Va.) will suit up for USA Elite, rising junior Elicia D'Orazio (Clermont, Fla.) plays for Team Puerto Rico and Erika Bennett (Hereford, Ariz.) from the Class of 2012 pitches for Team Mexico.
When asked about the opportunity to take the field against the best in the world, all three expressed it has been one that they have not taken for granted and in which they take great pride.
"Putting on the Mexican National softball jersey is a blessing," Bennett said. "I believe God has given me the greatest path. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to not only represent Mexico, but to represent my background as a Mexican American and to never lose sight of my heritage."
D'Orazio feels the same in playing for and representing her heritage.
"Being able to put on the Puerto Rico uniform and represent the island is honestly a blessing," D'Orazio said. "It really makes you stop and understand that this sport and team is bigger than you as an individual.
"Being able to compete at this level against the best countries across the world is amazing! Every day I am not only challenged by my teammates, but those players of different cultures, training and mindsets of the game."
Zerkle will have her first chance to wear the red, white and blue in a game July 5 against the Czech Republic.
"I'm sure it will be an indescribable feeling to step on that field with the USA jersey on against some of the best players in the world," Zerkle said.
Both D'Orazio and Bennett have been playing internationally since 2013. Zerkle is the rookie of the group.
D'Orazio has played in nine international tournaments including three previous World Cups. The Herd shortstop, who plays center field for Puerto Rico, and her national teammates won the Fourth Torneo Della Repubblica a month ago in Italy. Along with Puerto Rico the tournament featured four Italian teams and Team France, in which future Herd teammate Eloise Tribolet (Meyzieu, France) roams center field.
Puerto Rico lost the first game of the Torneo Della Repubblica to Italy, 1-0. However, D'Orazio and her teammates fought back, winning three of the next four and defeating Italy in the championship game, 2-1, in the eighth inning. The game was scoreless entering the top of the eighth when Puerto Rico scored two runs with D'Orazio crossing home plate for the second run and the eventual game winner after Italy scored one in the bottom of the inning.
"The tournament in Italy gave us all the opportunity to be relaxed and play together for the first time since last summer," D'Orazio said, who tied for the team lead with six runs scored. "It let us get all the jitters and rust out and just get the feel of one another."
Bennett pitched for the Herd from 2011-12 after two stellar seasons for Miami Dade College. She currently is an assistant coach at Florida Gulf Coast and still gets the opportunity to pitch for Team Mexico. The World Cup will be Bennett's eighth international competition and her third trip through the World Cup of Softball.
"It has been an amazing experience," Bennett said. "Pitching and traveling to places to play top teams like USA, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and many more is a dream come true. Even pitching against Crystl Bustos was an honor itself. This is the greatest experience and opportunity that I have ever imagined."
Zerkle was selected for the USA Elite team back in January. She traveled to Oklahoma City June 12-16 to attend Team USA Training Camp. Both the Women's National Team and the Elite Team will be competing as the Herd senior is heading back to ASA Hall of Fame Complex for her first experience of international competition.
"It will be a challenge playing for the first time with this group," Zerkle said. "Our first week of training went really well and I think we'll play well as a team. We have a lot of talent."
All three players have high hopes for the World Cup of Softball and a very positive outlook for their respective teams.
"Ideally our coaches expect us - both the National Team and the Elite Team - to be competing on the last day of the tournament," Zerkle said of the host teams.
Puerto Rico has had some success against some of the top teams, since D'Orazio began playing in 2013, with prior wins over Japan, Canada (twice) and China. All three teams are ranked in the top six in the world. D'Orazio bat .429 during the 2015 World Cup as Puerto Rico finished third.
"Being the number 11 team in the world, with the top six ranked teams all in the World Cup this year we plan on making a statement and name for ourselves," D'Orazio said. "We want to show that we can hang and come out on top again."
Mexico finished fifth in the World Cup in 2014 and the team is looking to improve on the sixth place finish from a year ago. "There are 13 teams in the World Cup this year," Bennett said. "That is the most I have experienced since I've played. I believe Team Mexico has a great opportunity to finish top five or better."
Along with the excitement of the upcoming World Cup of Softball, the current and former Herd players recognize what this experience and exposure could bring. Not just for themselves but for Marshall as well.
"The fact that we now have four players (including Tribolet) at Marshall representing four different countries just shows how much talent comes from Marshall and how much potential we all have," D'Orazio stated. "It's great knowing that Zerkle and Eloise both get the opportunity to play at such a high level this summer as well because it brings so much experience, knowledge and ability back to school with us for this year."
Zerkle will be wearing her familiar number 18 on the field this coming week.
"It is great knowing Marshall will be well represented in the World Cup with the three of us and incredible knowing that we have a new addition playing internationally as well."
Bennett believes that the experience of the players will benefit not just on the field but for team unity as well, giving players something new to bond over.
"Softball is played all around the world and I believe that bringing international athletes in is a way to success. Knowing that Marshall is integrating international athletes in their program is amazing. I think great things will come to them as the athletes will learn new cultures and bond with their teammates. I believe we are very fortunate in what we have here in the United States and sometimes seeing what international students bring makes you feel lucky for what you have."