The 13th Annual Junior Softball World Series wrapped up on Saturday, with the U.S. Central champs taking home the title with a 10-0 victory over the team from the U.S. Southeast region at Everest Park in Kirkland.
The Bellevue/Mercer Island All-Stars -- a team made up of players from Mercer Island Little League, Bellevue West and Bellevue Thunderbird -- played host of the series, after winning the District 9 local tournament. They hosted 10 teams of 13-14 year old players from around the world and went 2-2 in the series.
With ESPN cameras rolling, Central (Croswell Little League, Croswell, Michigan) jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first inning and added six more over the next three innings to take the title in a mercy-rule-shortened, five-inning victory.
"We just knew we had to fight," Central manager Andy Young said. "They kind of stressed me out in the last two games before this one, deciding not to hit the ball until the bottom of the seventh inning, but they got the job done today."
Central was coming off of a dramatic walk-off win over the U.S. East in the semifinal game on Friday night. Less than 24 hours removed from that nail-biter, Central put an early distance between itself and Southeast (Palma Ceia/West Tampa Little League, Tampa, Fla.). With the bases loaded in the bottom of the first inning, Brooke Smith reached on an error, knocking in two runs. Back-to-back singles by Victoria Bender and Rachel Shaad made it 4-0 and Southeast never got any closer.
"Those four runs were huge," Young said. "They kind of settled everything down with us, kind of got the other team down, I think, and it worked out well."
Central broke the game wide open in the bottom of the second inning. After loading the bases on three straight infield singles to start the inning, Megan Guitar doubled deep into the right-center field gap to drive in three and essentially put the game away. Guitar also pitched all five innings for Central, allowing just one hit and striking out eight.
"We came into this game with all our pitchers," Young said. "We were on the top, we had everybody ready to go, everybody was in pretty good shape."
Southeast was coming off a dominating effort in its semifinal game against the U.S. Southwest. Nikki Lopez, the Southeast's star pitcher, hurled a complete game shutout in that contest, striking out 12 and allowing only two hits. But with Lopez unavailable in the championship game, Central had no problem putting together some hits.
"I told them to hold their heads up, second in the world is great," Southeast manager J.D.Fernandez said after the game.
Notes: The tournament ran from August 14-20 and featured 10 teams representing five continents...The championship game was televised by ESPN and drew a sizable crowd...The championship was the first for the U.S. since 2008...Most of the teams that had previously been eliminated from the tournament sat behind the outfield fence and participated in mid- and post-game dance contests. After the presentation of the championship plaque and banner, members from several different teams joined the Southwest team for a coordinated dance between first and second base.