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Willow Creek scraps to the end, loses title

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Willow Creek first baseman Kendra Hutchinson slides safely into third base in the third inning of the all-stars loss to Tigard/Tualatin City on Friday.

Given another shot, sure, Willow Creek wishes it could’ve made a killing with runners in scoring position in the district four championship game against Tigard/Tualatin City on Friday.

Had the bats come alive at the fitting time, it well could’ve been Willow Creek coming out of district four and going to the Little League World Series at Alpenrose in two weeks. Unfortunately, each time Willow Creek waged a dangerous warning at Tigard/Tualatin City, mounting runners into scoring position, the Beaverton- area all-stars couldn’t take advantage, dropping a tough 3-0 defeat.

Yet, Willow Creek walked off the Alpenrose Stadium field with its pride, continuity and friendships intact, knowing its season was more about wins and losses. The players waved to their parents and fans in the stands and graciously accepted their second-place medals. The loss wasn’t what Willow Creek wanted to willingly accept. But, considering how much the all-stars progressed this year, it was one that’ll vanish in time when the squad looks back and reflects on all its successes.

“I thought we came really far,” said Willow Creek first baseman Kendra Hutchinson. “From tryouts at the beginning of season, we just shot up. I’m going to remember all the friends I made because I didn’t know any of these girls before.”

“We’re a really close team,” said Natalia Koufaty. “We support each other from bad hits to good hits and defensive plays.”

“There were a lot of games where we would come back like today,” said Claudia Boyd. “There were games when the other team would get a lot of hits and put us in a worse position, but we always battled and fought to come back.”

“I’m proud of the girls,” added Willow Creek head coach Shari Byrnes. “To play in the championship game, play their hearts out, leave it all out on the field and never give up? I couldn’t ask for anything more. They played awesome. They’re a great, great group of girls. Not only are they good athletes, but great people too. They’ve all become really good friends. It’s been fun to see them gel as a team and have so much fun together.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Willow Creek starting pitcher Grace Kimball struck out 13 Tigard/Tualatin City batters in the Special District Four Championship Game.

Getting runners on base and around into scoring position certainly wasn’t an issue for Willow Creek against a tried Tigard/Tualatin City team. Down 1-0, Boyd, Alexis Figueroa and Mikaela Byrnes each got on base in the bottom of the third. However, Tigard/Tualatin City starting pitcher Liz Hillier struck out Willow Creek’s next two batters to break free from the jam.

“We knew it was going to be a tough battle,” said Byrnes. “We knew we were going to have to play our best game to win because Tigard’s a great team.”

“We did really well putting people on base, and we just tried our hardest to hit the ball,” added Koufaty. “(Tigard) played really well defensively.”

Willow Creek’s Grace Kimball was up for matching Hillier’s Houdini act, overcoming two bunt singles and a bases-chucked mess with back-to-back strikeouts in the fourth. Kimball struck out 13 in five innings of work and only allowed one earned run.

“It was really fun playing today, and at the same time, really nerve-wracking,” said Koufaty. “We were all playing great, and I thought we did really well.”

Hutchinson led off the fourth by housing a double to right-center that ricocheted off the fence back toward the outfield grass. Kimball followed with an infield single and scooted to second to set up runners on second and third with no out, still trailing 1-0.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Willow Creek starting pitcher Grace Kimball gets congratulations from head coach Shari Byrnes after striking out the side against Tigard/Tualatin City.

“That’s kind of normal,” said Hutchinson with a smile. “We go up and think we’re going to hit the ball and don’t hope we strike out.

The high-wire-walking Hillier struck out the next two Willow Creek batters and induced a groundout to the first for the third out of the fourth. In the sixth, Willow Creek again put the heat on Hillier, putting two all-stars on base to start the stanza. Tigard/Tualatin City pulled Hillier for Tia Cordts who struck out the next three Willow Creek hitters for the win and automatic berth in the Little League World Series.

“We didn’t give up toward the end,” said Boyd. “We tried our best to hold them. When we were up to bat we worked really hard to hit the ball and get base hits. We didn’t ever give up.”

“We did really well putting people on base, and we just tried our hardest to hit the ball,” said Koufaty. “(Tigard) played really well defensively.”




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