The Little League Juniors go 1-2 in three pool play games at their Series
By BILL WILSON
Of the Times
KIRKLAND, Wash. - Though a pair of losses dashed its semifinal hopes, Murrayhill Little League has been having a blast at the Junior League Softball World Series.
The team has made new friends, played in front of large crowds and competed against the best teams in the world for an experience the girls will remember forever.
'It's been really fun. Awesome,' shortstop Chelsea Lambert said. 'The stadium has been really packed every game. Everyone has been really friendly and it's been fun meeting all the girls from the other teams, saying 'Hi' to them.'
Murrayhill is 1-2 with one pool play game remaining. The West representative has been shut out twice, wrapped around a 5-4 victory.
'I think we've done pretty good,' Lambert said. 'We could have done better, but we got stuck in a really hard pool. I think almost any one of these teams could have gone on to the semifinals.'
Despite playing against teams that are bigger, stronger and faster then what they were used to, Murrayhill remains upbeat.
'It's tough competition, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience,' pitcher Sarah Atkins said. 'They're just really good (the opposition). They see the ball well when they're hitting and they have really good fundamentals.'
South 11, Murraryhill 0
Naples, the South representative from Florida, recorded its second shutout of the tournament by one-hitting Murrayhill on Tuesday. Katherine Casey picked up Murrayhill's lone base knock in the sixth inning with a low fly that landed between a trio of Naples' players on the right side of the infield.
Naples finished second in the 2003 Little League World Series at Alpenrose. The Florida team also benefited from an recent Little League age change that allowed Naples to use several girls who will be high school sophomores this fall.
'They are a very solid ballclub,' Murrayhill manager Nancy Atkins said. 'Their starting pitcher threw 66-67 mph. That's getting it there.'
Naples built an 8-0 lead behind a big fifth inning that produced seven runs. While the inning would be Murrayhill's undoing, it did feature a stellar defensive play by the Beaverton squad.
With runners on second and third, third baseman Anna Johnson fielded a grounder and fired home to catcher Nicole Stanford. The runner collided with Stanford, who held on for the second out.
Sarah Atkins nearly picked up Murrayhill's first hit in the second with a line drive down the first-base line that was snared by Naples' first baseman.
Naples got its first run in the fourth inning after a leadoff double. The runner went to third and scored on consecutive groundouts. The South team then extended its 8-0 lead in the seventh with a three-run homer.
'We've been playing our usual defensive style of ball, but (the opposition) is just hitting the ball very hard,' Nancy Atkins said. 'Size-wise, most of the girls who came through the line (Tuesday) were 5-8 and 5-9.'
Murrayhill 5, Latin America 4
Murrayhill picked up its first victory of the tournament in a nail-biter against the Maunabo, Puerto Rico, Latin America representative from Maunabo, Puerto Rico. Murrayhill broke a 4-4 tie with a run in the sixth then held on for the victory after Maunabo advanced a runner to third in the top of the seventh.
'It was nice just to have that,' Sarah Atkins said. 'It was a relief not to go 0-4. It was comforting. That's all that matters.'
Kristen Kenck started the sixth inning rally by drawing a one-out walk. Nicki Cronauer pinch ran for Kenck and was advanced to second on Johnson's sacrifice bunt. Christine Staley drove in the go-ahead run with a base hit to center field, scoring Cronauer from second.
Murrayhill trailed 3-0 through 3 1/2 innings after Maunabo scored single runs in the second, third and fourth innings, including a solo home run in the third.
Murrayhill began its comeback in the bottom of the fourth. Shelby VandeBergh led off the frame with a single to right-center. Stanford's base hit to center gave the team two runners with one out. A groundout forced Vandebergh at third, before pinch runner Abby Komin scored from second on an error to make it 3-1.
Murrayhill took some risks that paid off in a three-run fifth for a 4-3 lead. Johnson led off with a single to left. After an error allowed Johnson to go to third and Komin to advance to second, Murrayhill put the squeeze on and Lambert dropped down a perfect bunt to plate Johnson.
Komin also scored when she was interfered with and given home plate to tie the game.
Murrayhill continued to play small ball with VandeBergh bunting and reaching first safely when the first baseman dropped the ball. Lambert hustled home from second to score on the play, sliding in safely for a 4-3 lead.
'We had a great fifth inning,' coach Atkins said. 'We had solid contributions from all 11 players and we have to have that.'
Manunabo recovered to tie the game in the top of the sixth, but Murrayhill got the go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning then squelched a Manunabo rally in the seventh.
The Puerto Rican team got a leadoff bunt single in the seventh. The runner advanced to second on a passed ball and to third on a groundout to shortstop Chelsea Lambert. Murrayhill finished off the game with a groundout to first baseman Kirsten Fahlbusch.
Asia-Pacific 4, Murrayhill 0
Murrayhill couldn't get much offense going and was one-hit in its opener by Bacolod City, the Asia-Pacific representative from the Philippines. Murrayhill put a runner on second in the second, third and fourth innings, but couldn't push a run across the plate.
'The Phillipines has an awesome pitcher who pitches really fast,' Lambert said. 'And they rope the ball.'
Murrayhill's best chance to score came in the top of the fourth. Atkins reached on a throwing error that allowed her to move up to second. Komin followed with Murrayhill's only hit, lining a single to center. Atkins tried to score, but the throw beat her to the plate and she was caught in the hot box between third and home before being tagged out.
The Philippines tallied two runs in the first inning and two more in the third, then retired Murrayhill's final nine batters for the shutout.
'Those girls are very disciplined, very talented young ladies,' coach Atkins said. 'It's a program that's very successful. I believe they will be one of the two teams in the finals.'
Bacolod City remains undefeated through its first two games, as does the South representative from Naples. Those two teams played yesterday afternoon to determine the pool's top seed.
Murrayhill finished pool play yesterday evening against the Central representative from Elyria, Ohio (0-2). Results from that game were not available when the Times went to press. Murrayhill would earn the pool's No. 3 seed with a victory and play at 2 p.m. Friday in a semifinal game to determine the contestants for the fifth- and seventh-place games.
'We just need to come out strong from the start offensively,' Sarah Atkins said. 'We need to do that to put pressure on the other teams.'
- Miles Vance contributed to this story