Willow Creek softball rolls to Little League World Series
The Willow Creek softball program has produced stars who have gone on and sustained some of the top high school teams at the Class 6A level.
From Grace Kimball to Savannah Hutchinson and beyond, squads such as Sunset, Westview and Aloha have reaped the benefits of the local Majors team at the grassroots level. They've had teams that competed for District Four titles and groomed future high school all-league players.
But Willow Creek, since its inception, arguably has never sported a powerhouse such as this summer's stacked roster. Willow Creek ripped through the District Four, allowing just one run in the district tournament thanks to the exploits of southpaw pitcher Bridgette Boling and punctuated its work with a 15-1 win over South Beaverton in the D4 title game on July 19 at Alpenrose Stadium. Willow Creek will represent Oregon D4 in the Little League Softball World Series from August 7-14 back at Alpenrose Stadium.
"They play for each other and they love each other," Willow Creek head coach Erin Boling said. "They're friends on the field, they're friends off the field. It's just incredible to see the camaraderie they have. I've never seen that on a team before. It's just a great group of kids that we love."
The title bout was a far cry from the pool play game South Beaverton and Willow Creek waged just three days earlier. Then, the contest went into the sixth inning deadlocked at 0-0 before Willow Creek erupted with eight sixth inning scores to run away with the shutout. Yet, in the championship, Willow Creek came out smoking, scoring four runs in the top of the first to take a commanding 4-0 lead. Kaiya Suyama drove in a bases-loaded RBI infield single by chopping a ball just inside the third-base side that stayed fair and allowed Kallan Bordwell-Gray to score to give Willow Creek a 1-0 lead. Then Sierra McKenna scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0. Gaby Bauer roped two-out RBI single to left and Suyama scored on a wild pitch 4-0
"We've seen that type of pitching before, we just had to get the bat on the ball and be aggressive," Erin Boling said. "They came out with confidence. We talked about scoring early and getting a couple runs under our belts. It helps the pitching out, it helps the defense out. We needed our bats to work and they did."
Better days are surely ahead for South Beaverton who came into all-star play without a 12-year-old on the roster. Head coach Brenda Peterson is one of the best in the business, someone who is entirely devoted to the sport, the district and the South Beaverton program. Two years ago, she and her daughter, Amanda, helped South Beaverton win D4 and reach the elimination bracket of the LLWS, the last game of which was on ESPN. Should South Beaverton choose to stay intact and make another run at Alpenrose, it'll be right back in contention. It was simply Willow Creek's day to dominate.
"I'm proud we were able to get to the point where we could compete with a really good team," Peterson said. "I want (South Beaverton) to know what they need to work on to improve, discover confidence and passion for the game and work over the winter on being better. And for me, this is a new turnover of growth for the league. I love to coach, I love to teach. I love the game."
South Beaverton third baseman Abby DeMayo and shortstop Aubri Kawaguchi combined to make a handful of stellar defensive plays around the infield and pitcher Gianna Defrank did her best to limit a Willow Creek lineup littered with power-hitting lefties. Kawaguchi drove in South Beaverton's lone run in the fourth, the only score Willow Creek yielded all tournament.
"I love watching them play, I love watching all of my players play," Peterson said with a smile. "We have a super-strong infield that will continue to grow and our outfield will continue to grow."
Bridgette Boling, Erin Boling's daughter, has pitched in several pressure situations for Willow Creek, including a couple of championship games before and was far from nervous in the circle. The left-hander hit a groove early and ended up striking out nine hitters in just four innings of work for Willow Creek.
"She doesn't get rattled easily," Erin Boling said. "She moves the ball around a lot. Even when there are a few little errors behind her she knows her team can back her up. And she has the confidence in herself to do what she needs to do."
After tacking on another run in the second, Willow Creek ripped the game wide open with a seven-run fourth, which ended the contest due to the ten-run rule. Bordwell-Gray tagged a two-run double down the third-base line to go up 7-1. McKenna drove in a run on an infield single. Sophia Groshong tacked on a towering two-run double over the South Beaverton outfield. And Bauer landed the deciding blow, splitting the South Beaverton outfield with a well-struck two-run double to right that made it 12-1.
Teams that make a run in the World Series tend to have a stud pitcher, someone such as Boling can carry the brunt of the work in the circle and blank the best hitting lineups. Her presence alone would've been a boon for Willow Creek in the LLWS. But there are so many hitting threats up and down the order from Bordwell-Gray to McKenna to Bauer that can rake, it wouldn't come as a shock to see Willow Creek stick around and will itself into elimination play. Willow Creek opens the tournament on August 7 at 1 p.m. against Canada, then plays Europe-Africa on August 8 at 4 p.m. in pool play.
"They are tough teams that come from all over, but I think we can play with them," Erin Boling said. "Our goal all along has been to get to the championship game of the World Series. Today was our first step in that. Hopefully, we keep on going and that will be our final goal. If we keep them having fun, that's all we need to do. They know how to play, so we just have to keep them loose and having a good time together."
Bridgette Boling, Sofia Cherry, Bauer, Evyn Morriss and Addilyn Gates started playing softball together at the single-A level when they were seven years old. They've added to the group over the seasons and created that familial bond that Erin Boling said is crucial to the team' success.
"I think that's what helps the most," Boling said. "They have skills, which is huge, but it comes down to the fact that they play for each other."
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