Willow Creek softball overcomes Canada in Softball World Series
When cornered by a Canada team that came out of the gate swinging, Willow Creek's will to win shone through on the world's biggest softball stage.
Trailing 5-1 in the first pool play game of the Little League Softball World Series, Willow Creek broke out with a four-run fifth inning to tie the game back up a 5-5. And with the momentum utterly shifted toward the Beaverton area Little League power, Willow Creek's Sierra McKenna drove in the go-ahead on a two-out RBI infield single to give Willow Creek a 6-5 lead in the top half of the sixth. Southpaw star pitcher Bridgette Boling, who hemorrhaged her team's bleeding earlier in the contest, did the rest, sitting down Canada's final three hitters to secure the important 6-5 Pool B contest win on August 7 at Alpenrose Stadium.
"When they need to come together, they do," Willow Creek head coach Erin Boling said. "Canada was a good, solid team. We knew every game we play will be tough. We'd love to be in the top-eight coming out of pool play and that's our goal, so getting this win is just huge. And the girls have a lot more confidence now that they can do it."
"It was stressful," Bauer said with a smile. "But it was fun to come back and show them that we could do it. We had to get more energy and believe that we could win. Every team is good here, so we just have to play our best."
Willow Creek plays Team Europe-Africa on Thursday at 4 p.m. back at Alpenrose. There are five teams in each pool and the top four advance to the elimination bracket.
"Now we know that we belong here," Team Oregon centerfielder Lucia Regnier said. "We're good, we can do it."
It was the sort of heart-stopping, check-your-pulse sort of team-wide rally usually seen during elimination play. Before a jam-packed fan base and opposing squads hoping to get a look at the hosts, the decked-out turquoise and white D4 all-stars proved early on they will surely be a tough out for any opponent moving forward. Bauer led off the fifth with a single, then Addilyn Gates chopped an infield single to get on base. Sophia Groshong waged a long battle with Canada pitcher Paige Warren before walking on a full count to load the bases. Kallan Bordwell-Gray followed with a fielder's choice to second that scored Bauer and pulled Willow Creek within 5-2.
"Someone just has to start something, then everyone follows along," Regnier said.
Then, McKenna came up and crushed a hard hit ball to short that was gloved but tossed wide of first, which scored Gates and kept the inning afloat at 5-3. Bridgette Boling maintained the momentum with another RBI single to the right side of the infield to bring Willow Creek within 5-4. And Sofia Cherry tied it, roping an RBI single to center to even the pool play game 5-5. The following batter struck out swinging, but the damage was inflicted, the Willow Creek awakening was in full effect. The large contingent of D4 fans gave their squad a standing ovation as they came back on the field for the bottom of the fifth, knowing full well Willow Creek had just earned new life.
"We had to trust ourselves and bring ourselves together," Regnier said. "None of us could've done it alone. You could feel the energy in the dugout. Everyone was so excited and pumped up, cheering and screaming."
The staged comeback was a sight to behold as the freshly anointed "Team Oregon D-4" contenders overcame what seemed like incredibly tall odds heading into the fifth. It was clear from the first pitch Canada wasn't here just to explore Oregon's vast tourist attractions and enjoy a week-long furlough. Warren, though small in stature, was a problem for Willow Creek, pounding strikes past hitters and ringing up strikeouts through the first four innings. The Canadians took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first on a throwing error and a delayed steal. Later, in the second, Canada drove in a run on an RBI single and plated two more scores on a pair of Oregon balls in the dirt to take a 5-1 lead. With the way Warren was dealing and the manner with which Willow Creek seemed to be snake-bit, it felt like Canada could steal the pool play opener.
Both Bauer and Regnier acknowledged that the pregame nerves that accompany any game afflicted the team early on, which is understandable considering none of Willow Creek's roster had played in such a contest before.
"Everybody was jumpy," Bauer said.
"It was scary," Regnier said with a smile. "It was like there was a ton of pressure. It was like 'Whoa, we're here.'"
Yet, Team Oregon is tough-minded and united. Once they got over the initial stage fright of playing in front of a huge crowd and ESPN's canvassing cameras, they were able to settle in and start playing their style of game. Even when Canada went up early, Bridgette Boling was exceptional in the circle. The southpaw retired the final eight hitters of the game and allowed just one hit in the final four innings of play. This, after helping her cause with an RBI single in the top of the first. Along the way, her defense helped her out, including a diving, sprawled out SportsCenter-worthy catch by Regnier in center in the fourth. Willow Creek's pitching and defense kept the team in the hunt until the bats started to spark.
"We talk a lot about picking each other up," Erin Boling said. "When one person is down, another person will pick them up. Today was a total team effort. We had a lot of our subs coming in and out, helping those who were a little nervous or weren't quite ready to play out there. We're so proud of them. Everything looks so different, it's a lot of pomp and circumstance but as soon as you get in the groove a little bit you realize it's all the same: same pitchers, catchers, fielders. No matter where we are or what we're wearing we still have that ability."
The top of the sixth started in the same fashion as the fifth. Bauer crushed a single to center to lead things off. And Gianna Micciche hit a towering fly ball to shallow left that landed in no man's land, just inside the third base chalk to put two on with no out. Then Gates did her job, moving both runners into scoring position with a groundout to left. Bordwell-Gray walked to load the bags for McKenna who pulled a ball to the Canadian shortstop that was bobbled, allowing Bauer to score, which gave Willow Creek its first lead of the game since the first inning at 6-5.
Armed with the lead heading into the bottom of the frame, Boling coaxed Canada's leadoff hitter into a popup and then struck out the next two batters swinging to salt the win away.
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