The South Beaverton all-star softball team crammed together in the middle of the pitching circle, beaming, laughing, hugging, pointing their index fingers in the air as their parents whipped out their phones, scooted all the girls together and let the cameras snap away.
Eventually, the triumphant District Four champions migrated to the lush, green Alpenrose Stadium outfield grass where the scoreboard still read South Beaverton 9, Tigard/Tualatin City 1. More snapshots, more bear hugs. The team disentangled the blue-and-white D4 championship banner they'd worked so tirelessly for and spread it across all thirteen South Beaverton players, all of whom had a hand in getting the program to this illustrious pinnacle, for one final photo.
Champions, at last.
Three years ago, when head coach Brenda Peterson put the South Beaverton program together, this was her ultimate ambition— to lead a team to the Little League Softball World Series, to represent the state and the area on the world stage. It took years of planning, practice, exertion and a hard-fought three-game series with Tigard/Tualatin City to get there. But after decisively beating their rival in the deciding third game on Friday at Alpenrose, South Beaverton can indeed call themselves champs.
"It's a dream," Brenda Peterson said with a smile. "I knew this team could do it. I wasn't nervous at all. I knew our girls were prepared and had played some tough competition in the past."
South Beaverton advances to play in the Little League Softball World Series, which starts Aug. 9 at Alpenrose Stadium.
"I just feel very happy and proud to have the chance to play against these teams from around the world with my amazing team," South Beaverton shortstop Ashley Goodale said.
South Beaverton bolted out of the gates in the top of the first, piling on seven runs on a mix of walks, infield singles, base hits and TTC misplays that snowballed in the sort of jarring stanza that knocked their championship foe to the canvas and built a 7-0 lead. Peterson is a coach who prefers her team to hit first, in the top half of the inning, not the bottom half. Rather than have the final say in the game's outcome in the bottom of the seventh, should a game come to that, the skipper is more partial to attacking from the opening pitch, which worked like a charm versus TTC. TTC actually won the coin flip to decide who hit first and elected to bat in the bottom half of each stanza. The decision played right into South Beaverton's hands as it built the huge early edge
"Any time you can put runs on the board and they have to chase them is an advantage," Brenda Peterson said. "The girls know how to take advantage of the other team's mistakes. If they give us an opportunity to score, we'll take it. There was far less pressure on (Amanda Peterson) to be more than she can be, and she was fantastic."
TTC's pitching staff seemed nervous in the high pressure, high-intensity situation, throwing ball after ball in the first. South Beaverton was all too happy to let their counterpart suffer. They left their bats on their shoulders and were keenly selective at the dish, allowing TTC to toss high, wide, low and in the dirt.
The more South Beaverton runners that got aboard, the better. Then the runs came and kept coming as the hits churned. South Beaverton got an RBI sacrifice fly by Mya Esuk, and a RBI infield single by Lizzy Bradford in the frame. Bradford's single was the team's only base hit of the big inning.
"Having your team back you up is pretty much the best thing ever," Amanda Petersen said with a smile. "We had to get the early lead before we could do anything, after that, everything just came together. That's our thing — get a good jump on the other team, make sure their feelings are down. After you get a lead, you pretty much get to pitch all of your pitches. You don't have to worry about a run or two because your team backed up you up early."
The rest of the way South Beaverton only scored two more runs, but it hardly mattered. Starting pitcher Amanda Peterson, Brenda Peterson's daughter, was masterful in the circle. The right-hander threw a complete game, five-hit gem, only allowing one run in the bottom of the third.
The youngster pitched like a seasoned high school ace, exhibiting a cool hand and precocious arsenal of pitches that didn't give TTC anything tasty to hit. And with an excellent defense behind her in the infield with Goodale, third baseman Chloe Arbow, second baseman Rachel Powers and first baseman Hailey Stutzman on the dirt, it was smooth sailing for six stanzas.
"We practice the same things over and over, so it's drilled, it's muscle memory," Brenda Peterson said. "They know what to do on defense and where to position themselves. We did a lot of defensive moving on (TTC's) batters. The coaches helped the girls get to the right locations, so they would be successful."
"I try to remind (Amanda Peterson) that 'Your defense has you,'" Goodale said. "We'll be there to back up the hits and all that. I love showing that our infield can make all of the plays and our outfield can make all of the catches. That just makes me comfortable in the (batter's) box because I know when we go back out on defense, we'll make all of the plays."
In the third, TTC loaded the bases with one out and brought their the heart of the lineupe to the plate. TTC's third hitter, however, was rendered neutral by an Amanda Peterson riseball and flew out to Erica Frainey in center.
A run scored on the play, getting TTC on the board, but the damage was limited to just a single score, 7-1. And Amanda Peterson stopped the bleeding completely by striking out TTC's cleanup hitter swinging to end the inning. Jam escape. No real harm was done.
"I knew Amanda would be special," Brenda Peterson said. "She's got ice in her veins. She doesn't let anything really rattle her. She knows how to work the game and the defense backed her up the whole time. We have a great outfield, a great infield and four great support players in the dugout who come to our games. The coaches had a game plan and she executed it. It was a win before the game started."
South Beaverton's squad is composed of players who live south of Highway 26 and most of them play together on a club team that Peterson put together three years ago.
The all-stars split the first two games with Tigard/Tualatin City, winning the second contest to stave off elimination and set up the winner-take-all rubber match on Friday night. And in a week, when the LLWS kicks off, South Beaverton will be right in the hunt.
Schmitz, pitching in relief for Tigard/Tualatin City, gave up five runs (two earned) on four hits, while striking out six and walking four in six innings of work. Peterson struck out eight and walked just one.
Goodale led South Beaverton with two hits. Hailey Stutzman singled to center to lead off the frame, and she ended up scoring on an error to up the lead to 8-1.
Alaina Baseleon scored later in the inning on a bunt by Goodale, pushing the margin to 9-1.
South Beaverton will open play at the Little League Softball World Series on Aug. 9 with a 1 p.m. game against the Southwest representative.
"We expect to play on either Tuesday or Wednesday on ESPN," Brenda Peterson said with a smile.