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Willow Creek wins its way to the World Series

The team beats Tualatin City 9-5 to earn its first-ever World Series berth
by: BECCA QUINT WINNERS — Willow Creek’s players and coaches rush the field after beating Tualatin City on Friday to earn a berth in the Little League World Series.

PORTLAND - Willow Creek's Cinderella champion is ready to dance.

Willow Creek's Majors softball all-stars won the District 4 championship on Friday, and in the process, secured its first-ever berth to the Little League Softball World Series.

'I'm ecstatic - I'm so happy,' center fielder Emma Williams said. 'Personally, I thought we were going to just get crushed by this team, so, I mean, it was unbelievable and crazy, but happy.'

'It was a great experience and I loved it,' said pitcher Sydney Rusin. 'I loved playing with my friends, hitting the ball - just everything about it.'

Willow Creek reached the championship game as the fourth seed with a 2-2 record after falling 13-2 to Tualatin City, beating Forest Grove 6-3, vanquishing Raleigh Hills 10-4 and coming up short against Murrayhill 6-3. Willow Creek defeated Raleigh Hills 12-5 in the semifinal for the right to face Tualatin City in the final.

In the title game, Willow Creek led Tualatin City most of the way and hung on to win 9-5.

Willow Creek will play in the World Series, set for Aug. 11-17 at Alpenrose. The team opens with a 5 p.m. Aug. 11 game against the Southeast regional champion, faces the Asia-Pacific team at 8 p.m. Aug. 12, meets the EMEA team at 10 a.m. Aug. 13, and wraps up pool play against the East region winner at 8 p.m. Aug. 15.

Semifinals are set for 4 and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 16, with placing games and the tournament championship due on Aug. 17.

'This group is a little bit in shock,' Willow Creek manager Matt Jaekel said. 'For this core group, this will be their fourth (all-star season together). For probably seven or eight players, this is their fourth go.'

'Since we're the hosting team (in the World Series), we only had to go through District 4, but all the other teams that we're going to play had to go through, like, five different tournaments, so I know that we're going to be playing the best of the best, and I hope that we just can pull through and play like I know we can,' catcher Emily Preble said. 'Everybody loves a butt-whooping, but I think it is challenging, and that's what helps you get better.'

'I think we're going to do really well,' said second baseman Maya Macey. 'With all of our experience we've had together for many, many years, we all know each other, and, going against these new teams, it's going to be a good educational softball experience, and we're going to learn a lot, and I think we're going to do really well and stay together and work as hard as we can.'

Tualatin City's Camryn Robbins put her team on the scoreboard first with a double in the top of the first inning, scoring Larissa Tashchuk, who had walked two batters earlier.

Willow Creek answered in the bottom of the first with first baseman Madeline Jaekel's RBI single to shallow midfield scoring Macey from second base to tie the game. Preble, who walked before Macey's trip to the plate, scored from third on an errant pitch to Jenny Marnin for a 2-1 lead.

That lead expanded in the bottom of the second when Emma Gordon scored from third base and Sam Lay reached third on a passed ball. Lay scored moments later on a dropped pitch to Macey for a 4-1 Willow Creek advantage.

Tualatin City scored again in the third on Robbins' RBI double to deep center field, bringing Rachel Dixon, who had walked and stolen second earlier, home to cut the deficit to 4-2.

Willow Creek countered when Madeline Jaekel scored from third on a dropped pitch to Gordon, who came home one batter later as Lay grounded out, expanding the lead to 6-2.

Tualatin City rallied in the fourth when Megan Woodward and Rachel Still scored off catcher Larissa Tashchuk's single. Dixon, aboard with a single, came home as Alexandria Herrera reached first on an infield error to trail 6-5.

Willow Creek tacked on two runs in the bottom of the fourth when Madeline Jaekel and Macey came home on Isabella Carino's single, and added one more in the bottom of the fifth with Macey's triple that scored Williams.

Rusin and the Willow Creek defense shut down Tualatin City in the top of the fifth, and cleaned up in the sixth, allowing no Tualatin City runner beyond second base.

'Nobody really backed down,' Marnin said. 'Everybody stayed in their high hopes - they kept their energy up. Our motto is, 'Don't get down - you always have your teammates to back you up,' so we kept with that and stayed with it.'

'It feels amazing - I didn't actually think we would get it,' Lay said. 'I thought we were going to get last place, but we just pulled it together and we won, which is a great feeling - one of the best feelings you can ever have. You couldn't ever believe this could happen until it actually happens.'