After finishing second in state competition and at Oregon nationals, the Newberg Ambush 16-U softball team traveled to Redding, Calif., in late July for Western Nationals. The B-level tournament, hosted by USA Softball, brought in a dozen teams from around the region to compete for a national title.
Ambush came out on top for its first national title. After losing the opening game of the tournament, that prospect seemed uncertain, but the team fought back and ran the table in the double-elimination tourney.
"We played our game," coach Joe Harris said. "Instead of trying to adjust to all the other teams, we forced them to play our game. We did it with strong pitching, great defense and the bats were on fire all weekend."
In the semifinals, Ambush faced Ignite from Vancouver, Wash., and beat them in a double, international tiebreaker that took nine innings. The final score was 7-5 in favor of Ambush, who awaited the loser's bracket victor in the championship.
Ignite ended up winning the loser's bracket game after its defeat at the hands of Ambush, setting up a rematch in the championship. It faced an uphill battle, though, having to beat Ambush twice in order to win the title.
In the first championship game, Ambush and Ignite went into the bottom of the seventh inning tied 5-5. A walk-off for Ignite in the seventh gave them a 6-5 victory and forced a winner-take-all title game.
Ambush made a statement in the final game with a 6-0 victory to capture the national championship. Makayla Hathaway from Hillsboro High School starred in the circle, pitching a seven-inning shutout.
Catcher Abby Carsley from Newberg High School hit a pair of home runs in the game, which sealed the deal. Carsley was joined by her sister Ruthie on the Ambush roster, along with fellow Newberg teammates Kiley Harris, Lelani Jaimes, Madyson Daniels and Leah Consenz.
Ignite made for a tough opponent in the title game, Harris said.
"The team we played were from out of Vancouver and they were a great team," he said. "They were a second year 16-U team and we were a first year 16-U team, and they played us tooth and nail every game until we rattled off a couple homers in that final game."
Harris said Ambush hasn't won a national title before, so this moment is sweet for a young club team coming into its own. Ambush would often play above its age group this season and has traveled to tournaments all over the west coast.
The strength of this team was undoubtedly its pitching – a staff that includes Hathaway, Harris and Natalie Davis from Dallas. Other players on the roster include Haylee Johnston from Gaston, Natalie Shreve from Beaverton and Jessica Thomas from Molalla.
The mental toughness of Ambush in the face of some early adversity is a testament to the team's character, Harris said, and he looks forward to seeing what this team accomplishes next year. Many of the girls on the team will return to compete at this level yet again. Plenty will compete on the field for the Newberg Tigers in spring 2020 too.
"It was all attitude," Harris said of the national title run. "They were mentally prepared despite not having been this far yet. After taking second at state and at Oregon nationals, and losing our first game in California, they refused to accept anything less than a title. These ladies just weren't giving anything in that final game."
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