Eastlake Little League softball stars advance to Western Regional
July 15, 2013
By Neil Pierson
When the Eastlake Little League softball all-stars played July 9 in the semifinals of the majors division state tournament, the pressure didn’t appear to faze them.
They kept physical errors to a minimum. They hit the ball with authority. Manager Steve Pollis was even praising the girls for properly backing up throws to various bases.
In short, Eastlake did all the little things right, and they added up to a 16-6 victory in four innings over the Mill Creek/South Everett all-stars at Sunset Park in Auburn.
Two days later, when the teams met again in the July 11 championship game, Eastlake had to gut out a 9-8 victory and punched its ticket for the Little League Western Regional tournament that starts July 19 in San Bernardino, Calif.
After the semifinal victory, Pollis said his team has borrowed a phrase from legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight: “Smart wins.”
“The girls have kind of grasped smart wins,” Pollis said. “There’s more than just the big hit, the big run. It’s the head game. And they’re doing that quite well.”
Mill Creek took advantage of an anxious pitcher early in the game. But Eastlake’s Sophia Robinson settled down after a walk and two wild pitches gave the opposition a 1-0 lead.
“I needed more time to warm up at the beginning, and then it took a little bit to get used to everything,” Robinson said.
Robinson got comfortable after that, and helped ignite Eastlake’s offense against Mill Creek pitcher Emily Wininger. Robinson’s RBI double was part of a four-run first for her team, and Eastlake never trailed again.
They piled on six more runs in the second inning. Three errors compounded Mill Creek’s troubles, and pinch hitter Hannah Butterklee delivered a two-out, two-run single.
Mill Creek rallied a bit in the third, posting four runs on three hits and two Eastlake errors. But Eastlake responded with five in its half, keyed by third baseman Georgia Robinson’s ground-rule double over the fence in center field.
Needing a run in the fourth to invoke the 10-run mercy rule, Eastlake used a two-out rally to score when Mackenzie Kurtz plated Sophia Robinson with a sharp single to center.
Eastlake had 14 hits, and few of them were of the cheap variety. They also earned a little extra rest with the blowout win.
“I’m glad we 10-runned them because that would’ve been a pretty long game,” said first baseman Josie Charles, who was 2-for-3 and scored two runs.
The group of 11- and 12-year-olds have had a sparkling postseason run as they head for southern California this weekend. They’re a perfect 8-0, and they averaged more than 14 runs per game in sweeping their four outings at the state tourney.
If they win the regional title, they’ll play at the Little League Softball World Series, Aug. 8-14 in Portland, Ore.
Sophia Robinson indicated Charles has set the tone for the offensive explosions.
“It’s important for the leadoff (batter) to get on base because that kind decides what the entire rest of the team will do, and it starts a rally,” she said.
“It kind of pumps up the team when you get on base, because they know they can do it, too,” Charles added.
One reason for Eastlake’s hot bats could be Pollis’ approach at practice. He brings in older girls to pitch, not only to rest the team’s pitchers, but to relieve the predictability of a pitching machine and get the players thinking at the plate.
The players train at Eastlake High School’s facility, which makes the club unique among District 9 Little League programs. No one else uses a high-school field for practices, Pollis said.
“The high school supports us because they know we’re their farm club,” he said. “Obviously, girls go to select ball and sharpen their skills, but Little League puts their foot in the water and develops their love of the game.”