Willow Creek weathers adversity, advances to elimination play
Through four games of Little League Softball World Series pool play action, two truths have emerged about Willow Creek.
First and foremost the host team can play with anybody. The Oregon representative sent a scare down the spines of LLSWS defending champion Southwest on Aug. 9, nearly nipping the Louisiana natives in a 3-2 thrilling defeat. It was the sort of confidence booster that created even more credence for a team that's openly stated its main priority is playing in the championship game.
Secondly, the team standing for District Four is tough. Sickness, headaches, finger jams, sore arms and a quick turnaround from the Southwest square-off the night spread through Willow Creek's personnel in the hours before they took the field against Southeast on Aug. 10. The lineup didn't look nearly the same as Willow Creek head coach Erin Boling frenetically piecemealed together a serviceable starting order. Players who hadn't manned certain positions in months were sent out to start due to circumstance. Full strength, Willow Creek was not.
Yet, Willow Creek scrapped and battled, testing Southeast pitcher Campbell Schaen who just days earlier threw a no-hitter against Southwest that went viral on social media.
Dexterous, able to weather adversity and ambitious. Willow Creek lost to Southeast 7-1 at Alpenrose Stadium and wrapped up Pool Play B with a 2-2 record and the third seed heading into elimination play. But this squad has proven it has the necessary traits to take on the elimination bracket, and health-willing, possibly get to the title bout.
"We weren't 100 percent today, but we have to be ok with that and know that we can compete," Erin Boling said. "We have to be able to hit and string together some hits a little bit better and manufacture some runs. But, I think we can do it. I'm very confident we can play with all of these teams when we're at our strongest level."
As the Pool B's third seed, Willow Creek will play Monday at 10 a.m. against either East (South Williamsport) or Latin America (Mexico City) in the first round of elimination action on ESPN2. The winner moves to the LLSWS semifinals on Tuesday where, if Willow Creek wins, Southwest looms in a possible rematch.
"It's one-and-done, so we have to come out hard," Erin Boling said. "I'm hoping we're healthy enough to do that. And if we're not we'll just have to figure things out and make it work. We have to get our bats on fire and if we do that, I think we can win."
With the MASH-looking lineup sending players scattered to different positions, Willow Creek righty Evyn Morris got the start in the circle while Bridgette Boling moved to center. Southeast had a hitter walk in the first and move to second on a stolen base but, Morris forced flyouts to Lucia Regnierin in left and Boling in center. And with the said runner on third, Morris forced a popout to Gaby Bauer behind the dish to strand the runners in scoring position.
Southeast scratched a run across in the second to go up 1-0. But in the bottom of the stanza, Bridgette Boling worked a full count and pulled a single to start the second inning. With Gianna Micciche at the plate and the Southeast infield drawn in, Boling took off for second on the first pitch of the at-bat. Nobody from Southeast covered the bag and better yet the throw to second had way too much sauce and skipped past the oncoming covering Southeast outfield, giving Boling enough time to circle third and score standing to tie it up 1-1.
Southeast scored three times in the third, but Bridgette Boling subbed in and stopped the bleeding with two groundouts, the latter of which was fielded by Micciche on a funky hop and fired to first for the third out. The pitch prior, Boling had the crowd oohing and ahing with a nasty, slow-moving drop ball that fooled the frozen Southeast hitter and landed at her knees for the second strike.
And in the bottom of the third, Sophia Groshong walked with one out and then blitzed from first to third on a single to left by Addilyn Gates to position runners on the corners with one out. Kallan Bordwell-Gray, a left-handed batter who likes to hit the opposite way, pounded a rise ball to right, but the Southeast third baseman made a spectacular snag and then tagged Groshong out as she tried to scamper back to the bag. It was a pro-like play, one that not only robbed Bordwell-Gray of extra bases but likely saved two Oregon runs from scoring and halted the inning before it could get churning.
In the fourth, Bridgette Boling and Sofia Cherry singled with one out in the fourth but were eventually stranded on the base paths. Willow Creek had at least one base runner in five of the six innings and finished the game with six hits against Schaen. Bridgette Boling led Willow Creek with three knocks and Morris added two as both lefties enjoyed success against their fellow southpaw. The plays Micciche, Bauer, first baseman Sierra McKenna and shortstop Kaiya Suyama made defensively were high-caliber and helped out both Morriss and Bridgette Boling. Bauer, who normally doesn't play catcher, threw out two Southeast base stealers. All of Willow Creek's players cross-train at different positions, so when pressed into duty they were able to perform. Neither the situation nor the outcome was optimal. But with a full day to rest in between the Southeast contest and elimination play, the hope is Willow Creek can be back to full strength as the pressure mounts.
"I feel like the competition has gotten better over the last few years, so I'm really glad to be a part of it," Erin Boling said. "There are no easy teams here. As a competitor, I love that. And I told the girls it's not about winning. It's about putting your best out there and if we lose, then that team was really good. But I still don't think we've shown everyone what we can fully do. I'm really going to challenge the girls to lay it all on the line on Monday and try to get that win."
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