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Ever wonder why Mankato East, Mankato West and Mankato Loyola seem to play in the softball state tournament so often?

Sure, they get great coaching during the high-school season, and there are many talented players in each program that work hard to enhance their skills.

But the success of each spring is a direct result of what happens the previous summer, as the Mankato Area Girls Fastpitch Association prepares nearly 500 young players, ages 4 through 18, with the Peppers tournament teams and the in-house Mintz and Stars programs.

And if the results from last weekend’s Ringneck Tournament at Sioux Falls, S.D., which feature more than 130 teams from four states and Canada, are an indication, there will be plenty more success for the high schools next spring.

The Peppers 18U team went 5-1-1 during the tournament, losing only to the five-time champions from Nebraska in the finals. Pitcher Coley Ries continues to dominate, as she did in leading East to the state tournament in June. And the lineup is a who’s who from the three local teams, plus a couple of neighboring cities.

The Peppers 16U made it to the semifinals, with pitcher Malorie Veroeven picking up where she left off in the spring, nearly helping West get into the state tournament during a doubleheader in the section championship. The lineup features names you’re going to hear a lot over the next two high-school seasons.

The Peppers 14U and 12U teams each won the championship of their bracket, though second 14- and 12-year-old teams didn’t fare as well. The Peppers 10U team won its tournament at Sioux Falls, which comes after another championship in an Eden Prairie tournament the week before.

It’s pretty safe to say that opponents rarely want to look across the diamond and see one of the Peppers teams.

It’s no secret that the Peppers programs have been an integral part of the success for the high-school teams, which should be well-stocked for at least the next decade. This summer’s teams seem to be as talented as past Peppers’ teams.

The players you see in orange Peppers’ uniforms will be soon wearing the red, black or blue of West, East and Loyola. And there’s a pretty good chance you’ll see many of them in state tournaments when they get to high school, with their coaches lauding the Peppers’ feeder programs.

Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353 or email at ccourrier@mankatofreepress.com.

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