At the Amateur Softball Association girls fast-pitch softball national championships in 1987, a coach from an Iowa team came up to Coach Tommy Orndorff, whose Vienna Shamrocks were the only non-California team still unbeaten at that point of the tournament. "Thank you," said the Iowa coach. "Because of you and your team, you have given the rest of the country hope."

The Shamrocks finished fifth in that tournament on their way to becoming the nation's premier 18-and-under girls team outside the state of California.

The Shamrocks have since solidified that position. With two fifth-place and one ninth-place finish in the nationals over the past three summers, the Shamrocks are the only team outside of the West Coast powerhouses to claim three top 10 finishes in that span.

{California teams} "consider us on the same level as them," said Orndorff. "The only difference is they pull their socks all the way up, like Michael Cooper, and we wear ours down."

There is another significant, telling difference. The sunbaked California clubs play together for 11 months of the year. "We were at a tournament last year and a California team asked us to play in its Christmas tournament," said Orndorff. "They couldn't believe that once the summer is over, we go our separate ways."

Orndorff is a sports fanatic/do-gooder who also coaches softball at O'Connell High School and is a part-time assistant girls basketball coach at Georgetown University. He has skippered the Shamrocks since 1973, one year after the team was formed.

"I do it for the pure enjoyment of the sport and being around the kids every day," said Orndorff, who earned his 500th career victory during the national tournament last year. "And to see the girls get the recognition they deserve."

This recognition is coming for a wider range of players each year. From the team's formation until about five years ago, Orndorff used players only from Northern Virginia. More recently, he has travelled the Capital Beltway in search of the best talent in the metropolitan area.

Orndorff, whose role with the Shamrocks virtually constitutes a second full-time job, but without pay, insists he rarely recruits players in the ugly sense of the word. "Our best recruiters are our kids themselves," he said. "Or a parent or player who has seen a player play somewhere else and thinks they could help us. And most often, the kids come to us."

This summer, Orndorff has woven together an intricate patchwork of quality players that had a 17-1 record entering this week. The standout of the group is four-time All-Met pitching phenom Michelle Collins (Surrattsville High School).

Collins, who will put her 70 mph fastball to work for the University of Virginia starting this fall, throws between 40 and 50 games a summer. Over the previous two seasons, she was 64-10 with 999 strikeouts and a 0.30 ERA. This year, she is 5-0.

The No. 2 pitcher is Michelle Hall (Madison), who played for Coastal Carolina College this past spring. "I learned some new things in college and I just wanted to work on them," she said of her reason for returning for her final season of eligibility with the Shamrocks.

Other All-Met players on the high profile squad include three-time All-Met infielder/designated hitter Sara Graziano (Seneca Valley), catcher Beth Park (Lee), first baseman Kate Boyer (Madison), outfielders Kathy Gross (Edison) and Tanya Spishak (O'Connell) and shortstop Pam Ludwick (Paul VI).

The Shamrocks play 15 games in the Fairfax County summer league at Caffi Field in Vienna. On weekends, they go to places like Michigan, Oklahoma, California and Pennsylvania to play more than 50 games in tournaments. Without sponsors, the players must put up approximately $1,200 each for travelling fees and uniforms.

"The approach we use with the parents is to consider it an investment in the stock market," said Orndorff. "We say, 'If your daughter is really as good as we think she is, it will actually get her a scholarship.' "

Park is a prime example. Orndorff said she is one of the more talented players he has had on the Shamrocks, but she received little recognition on her low-profile high school team and had no scholarship offers.

As a Shamrock, Park already has three scholarship offers. "They didn't even see her play," said Orndorff. "The colleges know my style of softball and all they wanted to know was who's batting third. She'll be surprised by what she's offered at the end of the summer. It will just be a matter of how far away from home she wants to go."

And for players that have their futures already mapped out, the price is still minimal compared to the experience. "It's an honor to play for the Shamrocks," said Graziano, who said her time with the Shamrocks is a chief reason she earned a full scholarship to Miami (Ohio) starting this fall. "It's like an experience that you'll never have again."

Orndorff hopes the Shamrocks will have an experience they've yet to come in contact with at the end of the summer.

With Collins, whom he sees as the best pitcher in the country at this age level, Orndorff wants to improve on last year's 59-8-2 record and strip a California team of the national championship.

"Our goal is to win a national championship this year," said Orndorff. "And with Mud {Collins}, that is realistic. This team has a tremendous work habit and they know they can compete with the best teams in the country."

Since 1976, the Shamrocks have an .839 winning percentage and have become one of the nation's top 18-and-under girls' fast-pitch softball teams.

..................... Nat'l.

Year.... W-L........Pct... Rank

1976....27-3........900.... --


1978....24-4........857.... --

1979....33-4........892.... --

1980....37-8........822.... --

1981....32-10.......762.... --

1982....35-3........921.... --

1983....25-13.......658.... --

1984....33-9........786.... --

1985....35-5........875.... --

1986....36-10.......783.... --




1990*....17-1.......944.... --

Totals..522-100-2..839.... --

*Through Sunday's game.