South Beaverton's welcome-to-the-show awakening came at the behest of a Waco, Texas softball team that was unlike any the Oregon District Four champions have played before.
Wired with speed, power, aggression on the bases and superb pitching, the Southwestern representative opened pool play with an 11-1 win over South Beaverton on July 9 in the Little League Softball World Series at Alpenrose Stadium.
The final score wasn't indicative of the how the opening contest played out, however. South Beaverton made a handful of uncharacteristic mistakes defensively and didn't have the same sort of pop in its bats. Chalk it up to nerves or first-game butterflies. Thankfully, the defeat didn't spell elimination. With three more pool games to go, ODF has a trio of chances to get a win or two and advance to the elimination round. ODF plays Asia-Pacific on Thursday at 4 p.m. at Alpenrose Stadium.
"We'll be fine and go get 'em tomorrow," South Beaverton assistant head coach Darin Stout. "We played a lot of games this year, probably around 65 or so. This team is really tight-knit. We have great player and parent support. We'll be back. We just want to bounce back. And if we put a lot of runs on the board everything will be fine and back to normal going into the weekend."
"It was a really fun opportunity and I'm glad we get to keep going," South Beaverton's Alaina Baseleon said. "I know we can play better, but I think we all did pretty good today. We can come together more as a team and have more communication — that's something we could've done a lot better at. Everybody on our team is really close and normally we're really good at (communicating), we just needed to express that a little bit more today."
Rather, South Beaverton experienced a sort of trial by fire. Now, the ODF titlists know what kind of hearty competition lies ahead, specifically the teams that hail from the United States. Errors and misplays can fly against teams like Tigard/Tualatin City, but not the nation's best. Teams like Floyd Knobs (IN) and Waco can punish opponents and cash in on the slightest lapse. Since South Beaverton got an up close view of what's on the horizon and the pre-tournament nerves are gone, it'll be better equipped for success.
"When we lose, it makes us want to win even more," Baseleon said. "I feel like losing makes us want to work together even more, communicate even more, fix what we did wrong and just play even better. I'm pretty sure the entire team was really nervous and woke up this morning and thought 'Wow, today is the big day'. Actually getting out there and starting to play helped us get rid of our butterflies. We just have to think of (pool play) as regular softball games and just play like we normally do."
Waco came ready to play from the first pitch and simply brought a different level of skill and athleticism unseen by South Beaverton at this point in the season. They were tall and country strong, but fast on the bags. Tall, yet adept at the plate. Southwest got on the scoreboard first with a RBI groundout to go up 1-0.
South Beaverton starting pitcher Amanda Peterson struck out Ulissa Rivas with the bases loaded struck out for the second out. However, with two outs and the bases loaded, Southwest's Makayla Ramos nubbed a hit back up the middle that made it through ODF's sea of arms and legs into center that scored two and gave Southwest a 3-0 edge after one inning.
Yet, South Beaverton was undaunted. Third baseman Chloe Arbow walked in the top of the second stanza, stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. And, Allison Olivo made Southwest pay the price, by popping a fastball back up the middle to pull ODF within 3-1.
South Beaverton flashed moments of stardom and proved it belonged on the world stage. Arbow made a number of sweet defensive stops including a web gem along the third base line that prevented a run from scoring at the plate. Hailey Stutzman smoked a second inning double, though she was nabbed trying to take third. Second baseman Kendall Stout smothered a line drive in the infield. Rachel Powers' single in the top of the fifth snapped a prolonged South Beaverton cold streak at the plate.
But Waco is considered one of the tournament favorites for good reason. Southwest scored three runs in the fifth inning. Southwest's big inning was driven by a triple by Aziyah Flores, a groundout by Ariel Munoz, and an error that gave Waco an 8-1 lead. South Beaverton finished with just three hits against Southwest starter Daniella Ramirez, who sat down 10 straight batters from the top of the second inning through the fifth. So used to steamrolling opponents, the ODF champs faced a program that mirrored its own caliber and talent level in Southwest.
"Some of our other games haven't been much of a competition, but this was one was fun because we had a challenge," Baseleon. "We were happy to play a team as good as us and maybe even better. Normally our games aren't as hard that. It's a different level of competition."
If anything, the elevated talented level of adversaries will help ODF take its own game to new heights as the week unfolds. ODF will need to win at least one pool play game to advance to the single elimination tournament that begins on Monday.
"We want to get to Monday night, obviously, and I think our team can do it," Baseleon said. "We just need more communication, work together, help each other get back into the game. If somebody's down, we pick them up and just do our best."