KELSO -- Area softball fans will be treated to some of the better teams and most talented individual performers in the Midwest when the Kelso Klassic returns this weekend.
The 21st renewal of the Kelso Klassic Men's Fastpitch Tournament is set to open on Friday at the Kelso City Park with a full slate of games through Sunday's finals.
Fourteen teams from three states are entered in the North American Fastpitch Association (NAFA) bracket with each team guaranteed three games or more.
The host team, Kelso Fastpitch, would like nothing better than to emerge as the Klassic champion, a feat not accomplished by a local team since Kohlfield Distributing won in 1997.
Any hope for success rests on the arms of pitchers Tom Jansen, Bob Ressel and Nate Crowden.
Steve Schott is also available for pitching duty, but his big bat will definitely be in the lineup. Brian Drew, Larry Eftink, Scott Horman and Ryan LeGrand are other key performers for Kelso, which, according to sources, has been very competitive this season and is expected to make a good showing.
A pre-tournament favorite is the 2003 Klassic winner, The Freight of Vandalia, Ill., which placed 13th in the 2004 ASA Major National Tournament.
Led by a solid pitching staff featuring Alan Meinhart, the all-time Klassic strikeout leader with 264. Meinhart sports a 23-7 record in Klassic competition.
Looking to improve on its fourth-place Klassic finish in 2004, the Memphis (Tenn.) Posse returns as the highest finisher from last year's tournament.
Tim Tummins is the Posse' ace, having pitched 47 innings at the 2003 Klassic and the winner of five games in 2002.
A team that is considered a major threat is the New Zealand National 19-and-
They are on a North American tour in preparation for competition in the ISC Junior Men's World Championship to be held in Canada later this month.
All New Zealand players are considered the cream of the crop in their country where softball is the national game.
A five-time Klassic winner, the Nokomis Bud Light of Nokomis, Ill., returns with a corps of players familiar to Klassic fans.
Steve Mitchell (23-12 in Klassic competition) and Richie Younker lead the pitching staff. Randy Milleville, Brett Tuetken, Brian Pesko and Barry Epley pace Nokomis' offense.
A new entry this season is Broncos Fastpitch of Cerro Gordo, Ill., which many expect to contend for the Klassic title.
Many of its players once displayed their skills for the Decatur (Ill.) Pride, perennial national contenders.
Another former Klassic winner (2000), the Wolfpack Fastpitch of Smithton, Ill., is a respected competitor led by a strong pitching staff of Rich Tillitt, Ron Ames and Barry Dalmasso.
Graff Pepsi of Brookfield, Mo., winner of several Missouri State Championships, makes its initial appearance at the Klassic.
The Springfield (Mo.) Parrots hope to regain past glory after a down year in 2004.
The Southwest Missouri team has put together strong fastpitch teams in the past and appear to be on the rise again.
The Black Gold of Hermann, Mo., is another perennial Missouri state contender.
Rounding out the field are the Pomen of Memphis, Tenn., Budweiser of Herrin, Ill., Ward Chrysler of Elkville, Ill., and Lee's Sports of Radom, Ill.
Action kicks off on Friday with four first-round contests on two fields.
8 p.m. -- Kelso Fastpitch vs. New Zealand
8 p.m. -- Nokomis Bud Light vs. Memphis Pomen
9:30 p.m. -- Wolfpack vs. Herrin Budweiser
9:30 p.m. -- Lee's Sports vs. Broncos
8:30 a.m. -- Springfield Parrots vs. Black Gold
8:30 a.m. -- Graff Pepsi vs. Elkville
10 a.m. -- Memphis Posse vs. Wolfpack/Herrin winner
10 a.m. -- Vandalia vs. Lee's Sports/Broncos winner
7:30 p.m. -- Loser's bracket contests 9 p.m. -- Winner's bracket semifinals
9 a.m. -- Consolation bracket
12 p.m. -- Winner's bracket final
3 p.m. -- Championship
4:30 p.m. -- "If necessary" game