KELSO -- It's that time of the year for fastpitch softball enthusiasts.
The 22nd annual Kelso Klassic Men's Fastpitch Tournament opens on Friday and runs through Sunday at the Kelso City Park.
"This is a highlight for area fastpitch fans and should be another outstanding tournament," said Rick Heuring, assistant tournament director.
Fourteen teams, from four states, are entered in the event with each guaranteed three games using a NAFA bracket.
Local representation will be provided by two teams from Kelso, Kelso FastPitch and Jamco Transportation.
Kelso Fastpitch will send Tom Jansen (161 strikeouts in 148 innings) and Bob Ressel to the mound. Leading hitters are Larry Eftink, who also doubles as the tournament director, Brian Drew, Jerry Wolsey and Brent Rampley.
Jamco Transportation is loaded with pitchers, led by Jeff Schott, Steve Schott, Nate Crowden and Ron Ressel. All are threats on the offensive end, also, with Steve Schott leading the way with a robust .366 average. Other top hitters include Craig Pennington and David Pyles.
The pre-tournament favorite is likely The Freight of Vandalia, Ill. They won the Klassic in 2003 and won the ASA Class B National Championship last year, ending the season with a 43-19 record.
The Freight boasts a solid pitching staff led by Alan Meinhart -- 23-7 in Klassic competition with a stingy 1.32 ERA and 13 shutouts.
Offensively, The Freight is driven by Rich Well, Nick Casey, and Bob Nagel.
The reigning champion, Radom Lee's Sports from Radom, Ill., will be on hand to defend its 2005 Klassic title. Radom went 58-21 last season with a runner-
up finish in the Illinois Class A State Tournament.
A surprise winner last season, Radom returns with its entire team intact. The pitching staff includes Mark Radake, the Kelso Klassic most valuable pitcher last year. Radake went 26-7 with a 2.97 ERA. Radom's top hitters are Ryan Colle, the 2005 Klassic most valuable player, Eric Saunders and C.J. Cruser.
The Texas Stars of Houston, Tex., become the first team from the state of Texas to appear at the Klassic. The Stars have won many ASA tournaments over the years, including the Men's Masters National Championship in 2003 and a runner-up finish in 2005.
Nokomis Bud Light is another strong contender as their past Klassic history would allude. The nucleus of this team has either won or finished second 11 times in the 21-year history of the Klassic.
Leading the charge for Nokomis is Steve Mitchell, the winningest pitcher in tournament history at 25-14. He also leads in strikeouts with 278.
Graff Pepsi of Brookfield, Mo., is making its second trip to the Klassic after a rain-interrupted appearance in the '05 tournament.
A perennial upper-echelon team, Graff Pepsi has won several state titles.
Black Gold from Hermann, Mo., again returns to the Klassic field.
Eric Steinbeck leads the Black Gold pitching corps. He is third all-time in Klassic strikeouts with 229, despite a mediocre 12-15 record.
The Belleville, Ill., Stallions are the defending Illinois Class B state champions. The Stallions posted a 44-28 record in 2005.
The Posse of Memphis, Tenn., return with rubber-armed pitcher Tim Tummins, who threw 47 innings, the equivalent of almost seven regulation games, in the 2003 Klassic as the Posse fell just shy of reaching the championship final.
Another Memphis-based squad is the Po-Men, featuring pitcher Jim Butler, who has logged the most Klassic innings pitched with 282.
The KC's/Bud Select nine from Teutopolis, Ill., return in search of their first Klassic title. The team is centered around pitcher Terry Mette, who is also their top hitter. Mette hit 19 home runs with 67 RBIs in 2005.
Rounding out the tournament field are Blues Fastpitch of Herrin, Ill., and the Memphis Gamblers.
The tournament opens Friday night with four first-round games.
Tournament host Kelso Fastpitch meets the Texas Stars at 8 p.m., while the Nokomis Bud Light and Memphis Po-Men tangle on the other field.
At 9:30 p.m., Jamco Transportation takes on Radom Lee's Sports and the Black Gold faces the Belleville Stallions.
First-round play resumes on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Action continues throughout the day with loser's bracket contests beginning at 1 p.m. and winner's bracket semifinals at 7:30 and 9 p.m.
The Sunday schedule opens at 9 a.m. with the winners' bracket final at 12 noon, followed by the championship at 3 p.m.