STRATFORD - When the 11th annual Women's Major Softball National Championship tournament begins on Thursday, it will also mark the last time that one of the game's top players over the last two decades will be in action.

Elaine Bedell, the ageless wonder for the Lyons (PA.) Spirit, has announced her retirement at the conclusion of the tournament, ending her 38-year softball playing career. Although her playing time has been limited this year, she has still seen action.

The Spirit starting center fielder and leadoff hitter has played in all 10 WMS tournaments with the Spirit, who boast a 29-11-1 record, including seven straight wins and 10 in the last 12 games. They will meet the Stratford Brakettes (39-1) in a pool play game at 2:45 p.m. Thursday. The Brakettes open Session #1 with the CT Eliminators 18 Gold team at 1 p.m.

Bedell started her softball career in 1984 at age 11 and has been a fixture at national tournaments for over three decades. "Rumor has it that Elaine once played in three different national tournaments (classifications) in the same year," said Brakettes General Manager and Tournament Director Bob Baird. "That was a no-no as far as the ASA was considered, but she managed to pull it off. She just loves the game that much.”

Bedell is a four-time ASA and WMS All-America and the 2017 recipient of the Allyson Rioux Award as the tournament's top defensive player.

"We've dedicated the WMS this year in her honor," Baird said. "She has done so much for the sport in her Allentown (PA.), area. In addition to serving as the player/manager of the Spirit for the past 23 years, Bedell (a former East Stroudsburg University standout) recently retired as a high school coach after nearly three decades.

The Spirit were third in last year's event and has two of the finest pitchers in the game in veteran’s Jenn Shellhammer and Liz Gall, both University of Maryland Hall of Famers. While the Stratford Brakettes have won the WMS eight times, in 2017 the Spirit knocked them out of the tournament with a 5-4 loser's bracket victory.

Tournament passes will be on sale at the field when the gates open at 12 noon Thursday. Box seats for the seven sessions are $35, reserved with back rests behind home plate are $30, and first and third base bleacher are $25. All Brakettes Booster Club members and parents of both the Stratford and Junior Brakettes receive a $5 discount on each ticket they purchase.

Session #2 starts at 5 p.m. with the Team Social for coaches, players, and invited guests. During that time the Magnificent Brass, a 10-member group comprised of former drum and bugle corps veterans who will play a host of patriotic songs and Frank Sinatra favorites until 5:45 p.m. The Coastal Chordsmen vocal group will then entertain the fans with several popular tunes before Opening Ceremonies and the Parade of Teams onto the field at 6 p.m.

In the three games at DeLuca Thursday night, the Stratford Brakettes and Eliminators 18 Gold play at 6:30 p.m., the Junior Brakettes (22-11-1) face the Ridgefield Rebels at 8 and the Junior Brakettes take on the CT Eliminators 23U at 9:30. Two games will be played at Short Beach Thursday with the Stripes & Strikes of Hazleton (PA.) meeting Tanner Pride of Woburn (Mass.) at 8:30 p.m.

Two pool games beginning at 9 a.m. will precede the start of bracket play at 12:30 p.m. Quarterfinal round action opens Sessin #3 at 3:30 p.m. Play continues all Saturday and the finals are set for 1 p.m. Sunday.

Thursday's Session #2 beginning at 5 p.m. has been designated as Town of Stratford Night with all residents invited free. You must show proof of residence (driver's license) to be admitted free of charge.

Individual session tickets are priced the same as during the regular season: box seats are $8, reserved with back rests $6, and bleacher seats $5.