Willow Creek isn't content with just being a participant in the Little League World Series.
Surely, reaching the highest level of youth softball is a feat all to its own, an accomplishment that the Majors all-star squad should feel great about. It's an honor to be considered one of the world's best.
But the hometown team isn't happy just to be here if you will. Though Willow Creek won't have to travel far as some of the other programs coming in from all over the globe, next week's showing at the LLWS at Alpenrose Stadium is a business trip. Willow Creek is confident, but not cocky. They feel if they can play loose and free, that they contend for the grandest of prizes, not a consolation crown.
"We can play with all of these teams and there's no team that I don't think we can be right with," Willow Creek head coach Erin Boling said. "We're going to take this seriously. We want to do well. Every day we're focusing on what we can do to get better, inning by inning, what can we do to beat the team we're playing."
That sureness isn't blind faith by any means, either. Personnel-wise Willow Creek is teeming with a deep lineup of plus hitters, a handful of whom are left-handed by trade who can bunt, slap and hit from the left side. Sierra McKenna, Bridgette Boling, Gaby Bauer, Sofia Cherry and Kallan Bordwell-Gray all can provide power at the plate, play small ball if instructed and come up clutch when clutch is required.
Bridgette Boling is a punchout-hungry pitcher with a defense that will back her up when the opponent puts the ball in play. Willow Creek has proven itself as a deep, versatile, battle-hardened group that's won state championships together at lower levels and tasted sustained success. This will be their biggest challenge yet, but one Boling feels Willow Creek will meet head-on.
By the time Willow Creek takes the field on August 8 for its opening pool play game against Canada, it will have been 19 days since the group last played a competitive game. That's a long hiatus in any sport, particularly softball where routine and repetition are paramount. But the gap in-between games gave Willow Creek time to heal nagging injuries, tie up any loose ends and get away from softball for a few days to refresh. And maybe most importantly, it gave Boling and her coaching staff a chance to scout out the incoming competition. While Willow Creek was done with districts after downing South Beaverton on July 19, many of the LLWS squads were still in the thick of regional tournament play. Better yet, ESPN+ aired a number of the regional games around the country, which allowed Boling and company to get a glimpse at Willow Creek's scheduled pool play opponents such as Southwest (River Ridge, LA) and Southeast (Salisbury, NC) as well as teams they might see down the road like, West (Honolulu, HW). Willow Creek's dominant run over District Four wasn't televised, meaning foes have little intel on the Beaverton power. Yet, Boling now has plenty of inside information on the LLWS field to help her team gain an invaluable edge as Willow Creek navigates the world stage. Vital knowledge like a pitcher's velocity and placement, how good defensively a catcher is behind the plate, how the infield handles different scenarios is critical when it comes to strategizing and game-planning for an opponent.
"It's a huge advantage," Boling said. "It's an x-factor in a way."
Willow Creek will stay at the University Place hotel on the Portland State University campus along with all of the other participating teams for the week. So, sleeping in their beds and sticking to the same summer routine won't be a built-in advantage for the hosts. Still, Willow Creek has played at Alpenrose for years. They know the quarks, the lies, the gives in the outfield, the infield dirt and how the ball bounces off it. It's a place they're intimately familiar and comfortable with. And, hopefully, the softball community and surrounding areas at-large will come out in full force to support the home team.
Willow Creek is in a pool with four different teams including Canada and Europe-Africa (on August 8 at 1 p.m.), who Willow Creek plays in its first two pool play games. Then Willow Creek takes on Southwest on August 9 at 7 p.m. and Southeast on August 10 at 1:30 p.m. Four of the five teams in the pool move on to the elimination bracket, which means getting on ESPN2 or ESPNEWS on Monday, August 12. A strong showing in pool play and Willow Creek can position itself well for a run to the title.
"It's really staying loose," Boling said. "If we talk about it too much and get too much involved with 'Wow we're going to be on TV, wow look at all the fans in the stands' then they could get nervous. I want them to focus on this being a lot of fun and super exciting. It's going to be a memorable experience. And, we want to win. So, what we can do to do that? We've been in a lot of pressure situations in the past. I know in the tougher games we can come out on top. We'll see if we can put it all together when it comes down to it."
Nine other teams from around the world will travel to Portland to participate in this exciting event. Even though these girls live locally, they too will stay in a hotel with the other teams (paid for by LLSBWS) with chaperones and eat meals out when they are not at Alpenrose playing. This is required under tournament rules. In addition, as the hosts, we will provide welcome baskets to all teams (125 girls!) visiting our beautiful city and donate a raffle basket that will be raffled off during the World Series. All funds raised will go directly to offset the costs that would otherwise be incurred by the players' families for chaperone hotel rooms, welcome baskets, raffle baskets, team excursion, and additional meals for the team.
In addition to financial support, we would love to see fans in the stands supporting these talented girls. Entrance and parking are free so come see these All Stars represent the City of Roses.
To donate toward Willow Creek's cause please visi https://www.gofundme.com/supportwillow-creek-softball-world-series-expenses or simply search "Willow Creek Softball" on www.gofundme.com.
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