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Junior National Team makes tour stop in Hillsboro

Local softball stars play an exhibition against the U.S. Junior National Team

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KENT FRASURE - Banks rising senior MaKenna Partain played against the USA Softball Junior National Team last week as a member of her summer team.

There was something for everyone in this one.

Last Tuesday evening at Ron Tonkin Field, the USA Softball Junior Women’s National Team put in some prep work for an important tournament later this summer.

Some local high school stars played against the top young talent in the nation.

Some former Hillsboro standouts took the field together again.

And the sizable crowd on hand was treated to some pretty good softball. A total of 1,595 attended Team USA’s doubleheader against Northwest Bullets 18 Gold and Fastpitch Cares, so it was wins all-around for Team USA’s exhibition tour stop in Hillsboro.

The day began with a youth clinic and then a luncheon where Oregon coach Mike White served guest speaker. Team USA capped the experience with two wins. The first came 8-0 in five innings against Northwest Bullets 18 Gold, which features Banks standout MaKenna Partain and Glencoe star Macy Besuyen.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KENT FRASURE - USA Softball Junior National Team member Jenna Lilley signs an autograph for a young fan after two games in Hillsboro last Tuesday.

The victory didn’t come easy in the nightcap, and the junior national team needed nine innings to prevail against Fastpitch Cares, 6-3. Team USA was predominantly made up of players who are either just entering or just completed their first year of college.

The Fastpitch Cares roster was composed entirely of graduates from Oregon high schools who played or are currently playing NCAA Division I softball. Their number included former Liberty all-stater Alex Flores (Portland State) and Glencoe alumnae Courtney Clayton (UTEP), Alyssa Gillespie (Oregon) and Katie Sutherland-Finch (California).

“It’s pretty amazing ... we were talking about how it’s such a once-in-a-lifetime experience that no one gets to do,” Partain said between the two contests. “It’s crazy to think that we just got to play them. You dream as a little kid, as a softball player, to be on that team and so getting to at least play them? That’s pretty cool.”

In the first game, Team USA — which counts McKenna Arriola of Oregon State and Oregon’s Jenna Lilley on its roster — scored all eight runs in the first three innings, while the Bullets broke through with their first hit of the game in the fifth.

The Bullets coaching staff tried to rotate as many players onto the field as possible, so Partain batted once and Besuyen played in center field, almost coming up with a sliding catch of a tricky fly ball hit near second base late in the contest.

The two girls said Team USA was the best team they’ve faced — “by far,” Partain noted.

“Just being on the same field as them, it shows you how great of players are out there,” noted Besuyen, who picked up Class 6A all-state honors for the first time in her high school career this spring.

Facing off against a squad so chock-full of talent as Team USA was a valuable experience for both girls, who still have a year of high school to go and thus were younger than most of the national team players. Partain has given a verbal commitment to Minnesota, while Besuyen has committed to Concordia in Portland.

The two have played in plenty of national-level tournaments, but last week’s experience was a step above that, much like college ball will be.

“Those are the type of girls that I’m going to have to play in college, so it’s kind of an eye-opener to where I need to be personally,” observed Partain, a two-time Class 4A state player of the year. “But there’s definitely a big difference.”

Both Partain and Besuyen were cheered on by family and friends at the event. In fact, a considerable chunk of the local softball community seemed to turn out. Gillespie even had her own cheering section, with signs in tow, along the third base line.

“It was cool being able to see the whole softball community,” Partain said. “You don’t realize how big it is until they’re actually here supporting — I mean, obviously they’re probably supporting USA a little more. But you can feel it at the same time; we’d make plays and everybody would cheer.

“That’s such a cool feeling. Being able to see all those people, that’s a pretty incredible thing.”

For Lilley, being a part of the junior national team has been pretty incredible, too. Along with her teammates, Lilley was just coming off the World Cup of Softball X in California before arriving in Hillsboro as the team continued prepping for next month’s XI WBSC Junior Women’s World Championship in Oklahoma City.

Last week’s games gave her another chance to don the red, white and blue, this time in the state where she plays her college ball.

“It’s been great so far, getting to play the senior-level teams ... at the World Cup and represent your country is really special,” Lilley said of playing on the junior national team. “Getting to play against other countries, it’s a different kind of experience. It’s really fun. It’s been quite an honor.”


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