GSU's Hamilton Invited to USA Women's National Team Trials - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

GSU's Hamilton Invited to USA Women's National Team Trials

Hamilton Invited to USA Baseball Women’s National Team Trials

One of 40 players looking to make the final 20-player roster

STATESBORO, Ga. – Recent Georgia Southern graduate and former softball student-athlete A.J. Hamilton has played softball for most of her life. For four years, she anchored the Georgia Southern defense from the catcher position, but now, she’s trying her hand at a new sport.

Hamilton is working hard to earn a spot on the 2016 USA Baseball Women’s National Team. Last week, she was one of close to 70 players to travel to Cary, North Carolina where she participated in the second annual Women’s National Open, competing for a chance to earn a spot on the USA Baseball Women’s National Team. Hamilton was one of 40 players to make it one step closer as she was invited to the Women’s National Team Trials which will be held at Cal State, Fullerton August 22-25.

Once the trials are complete, USA Baseball and team manager Jonathan “JP” Pollard will announce the final 20-player roster for the 2016 Women’s National Team, which will be traveling to Gijang City, South Korea, where they will compete in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) Women’s Baseball World Cup from September 3-11, 2016.

“I didn’t even know that there was a women’s league in baseball,” Hamilton said. “I worked a camp with a friend of mine and she told me about it and that put it on my radar. During this past season, I talked to Coach Smith about wanting to play professional softball because she has lots of connections there, and she also mentioned baseball. So that really opened my eyes up to the idea and made it more of a reality for me.”

A May 2016 graduate and four-year starter at catcher for the Georgia Southern softball team, Hamilton has never played baseball. While that may seem like a hindrance to some, she chose to focus on learning from those around her as well as those that have already been there. That includes 15 members of last year’s 18-member national squad who have made the 40-player trials roster this year after helping the Women’s National Team win their first-ever gold medal in women’s baseball at the 2015 Pan American Games.

“The girls that were in Cary could really play whether it was softball or baseball,” Hamilton said. “They were all-around athletes. It was really cool to just know that I was compared with them. I made the top-40 just like those 15 did. It was a confident boost for me and helped me realize that I really can do this and I have a legitimate shot to make it very far.

“Watching them play – how they throw and how they hit – I now know what I need to look like and what I need to work on. They were phenomenal ball players.”

They tryouts were similar to other tryouts from every level where the coaches put the athletes through a series of drills and workouts. Then, they were divided up into four different teams and played three scrimmages.

“I have played softball my entire life and it was such a new experience for me,” Hamilton said. “People always compare baseball and softball, but they really are different games. It’s a different atmosphere, but I learned a lot. Being able to play with girls that have already played on this team before it gave me an expectation for myself. It helped me realize what I need to work on.”

While many would argue that baseball and softball can be very similar, Hamilton is learning firsthand the many differences between the two. Differences like learning to play on a larger field, utilizing a smaller ball, as well as getting used to a different motion from the pitchers among others.

“You still have the team aspect around things,” Hamilton said. “But it’s just a different sport. It’s overhand pitching and the distances are farther and that was one of the biggest struggles for me because I would make contact with the ball and I was thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to get there safe,’ but then the other team would throw me out because it’s another 30 feet that I have to run. The larger field, smaller ball and overhand pitching were definitely different. When the other team would steal with me catching, our pitcher hadn’t thrown the ball yet, but the runner was taking off and that is completely different in softball. Some of the timing was a lot different as well, but I felt that I adjusted well, overall.

Despite all the differences, Hamilton relished the opportunity to play with players from all across the country and even the world. She is the only Sun Belt Conference player to be invited to the trials and she joins players from all across the country in the honor, ranging in age from 16 to 42. She also is one of four players from the state of Florida.

“It was really cool to play with other players from such diverse backgrounds,” she said. “There was one player on my team from Switzerland. I was blown away that she would come all the way over to Cary, N.C. for baseball. But one of the coaches said for the boys, they have U-15 travel ball all the way up to the pros, so there’s a lot more of an opportunity for them to keep playing. For us women, this team is the equivalent of their pro team, so they are pulling from all ages and backgrounds. It’s really cool because I wasn’t the oldest or the youngest one out there. You just have to go out there and compete with what you have to the best of your ability and give it your best shot every time you go out on the diamond.”

One thing that Hamilton had on some of those trying out was her experience of playing in big games, against big opponents on the big stage. During her four years, Hamilton has had the chance to play for conference titles as well as in NCAA tournament games. She has faced numerous nationally-ranked teams and played against Power 5 squads as well as played on national television. Those experiences as an Eagle not only meant a lot to her, but they also helped her with the tryouts.

“Having played at Georgia Southern, having played in the Sun Belt as well as our out-of-conference schedule, it really helped me realize that I can compete with anybody,” Hamilton said. “In my career we’ve played Georgia and Florida State, we’ve gone toe-to-toe with Texas A&M, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. We’ve played against teams from the big conferences in the nation and we’ve been able to hold our own against them. I think that prepared me going into the tryouts in Cary to know that I would see players from these schools. There was a girl there who pitched at Louisville. The competition is awesome but we’re not playing softball anymore, we’re playing baseball, and most of us were playing it for the first time so it leveled the playing field a bit for us.”

There is still a lot of time left between now and when she will play again. The final trials are not until August 22. The nearly two months in between gives her plenty of time to work on getting better so she can put her best foot forward in California.

“I’m planning on continuing to get bigger, stronger, faster. That’s my goal,” Hamilton said. “I will definitely continue to work on my hitting. I’m listed as both a catcher and an outfielder, so I’m going to do a lot more outfield drills and get used to seeing the ball in the air versus seeing it coming out of the pitcher’s hand. The coaches in Cary gave me some tips that I’m going to make sure to add into my workouts.”

The best news for Hamilton is she won’t be doing it alone. She knows she wouldn’t be in the position she is today if not for those who have helped coach and mentor her along the way.

“I just cannot thank everyone who has supported me from day-one enough,” Hamilton said. “Coach Smith and everyone at Georgia Southern have been so supportive since I came to Statesboro and they have really helped me grow as a player and a person. My coaches in high school also did a lot to help get me here. Recently, I’ve worked with Jim Simmons, the head baseball and softball coach at Statesboro High School. Ever since I first told him I’d be going to this he was like, ‘What do you need?’ He was so willing to let me go take batting practice off of his pitchers and he has come out and hit me ground balls. I really appreciate everything that everyone has done for me and I can’t wait to get out there and do my best.”

The 40-player USA Baseball Women's National Team Trials roster is as follows:

Name, Position, Hometown

Brynn Baca, C/IF, Round Rock, Texas

Megan Baltzell, UT/LHP, Stafford, Va.

Haley Chandler, IF/OF, Wakefield, Mass.

Samantha Cobb, OF/RHP, Garland, Texas

Megan Dedrick, IF/RHP. Everett, Wash.

Eliza DeMers, IF/RHP, Rochester, N.Y.

Brittany Duncan, IF, Fairborn, Ohio

Erin Erickson, LHP/OF, Oakland, Calif.

Shelby Estocado, IF/OF, Las Vegas, Nev.

Riley Frisbie, RHP/C, Countryside, Ill.

Alex Fulmer, OF/RHP, Little Mountain, S.C.

Veronica Gajownik, IF, Chuluota, Fla.

Amanda Gianelloni, IF, Napoleonville, La.

Brittany Gomez, OF, New Braunfels, Texas

Jade Gortarez, IF/RHP, Riverside, Calif.

Jenna Greenwalt, LHP/OF, Arlington, Va.

Kayla Haberstich, RHP/OF, Bartlett, Ill.

AJ Hamilton, C/OF, Tallahassee, Fla.

Tamara Holmes, OF, Albany, Calif.

Amalia Hopson, UT/RHP, Sequim, Wash.

Sarah Hudek, LHP/OF, Sugar Land, Texas

Jessica Iwata, IF/RHP, Honolulu, Hawaii

Anna Kimbrell, C, Fort Mill, S.C.

Brittany Knudsen, OF, Escondido, Calif.

Joely Leguizamon, IF, Jacksonville, Fla.

Meggie Meidlinger, RHP/IF, Sterling, Va.

Stacy Piagno, RHP, St. Augustine, Fla.

Brandee Rains, RHP/IF, Lake Charles, La.

Nicole Rivera, IF/RHP, Lakeside, Calif.

Cydnee Sanders, IF/RHP, Magnolia, Texas

Montserrat Sandoval, RHP/IF, San Juan Bautista, Calif.

Marti Sementelli, RHP, Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Homa Shafii, C/OF, Monterrey, Calif.

Michelle Snyder, IF/RHP, Wenatchee, Wash.

Sara Rose Thibaut, RHP/IF, Folsom, Calif.

Sara Tobias, RHP, New York, N.Y.

Malaika Underwood, IF, San Diego, Calif.

Kelsie Whitmore, OF/RHP, Temecula, Calif.

Codee Yeske, IF/RHP, Lexington, S.C.

Kaylyn Zierke, C/IF, Wayne, Ill.

The following players were named as alternates on the Women's National Team Trials roster:

Name, Position, Hometown

Mia Hignojos, IF, Odessa, Texas

Olivia Bricker, LHP/OF, Batavia, Ohio

(From GSU Reports)

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