Officially, the Junior Softball World Series ended with just one winner — the West. With a 10-4 win over Latin America on August 16, the West team, Pusch Ridge Little League of Oro Valley, Ariz., took the title.
But in reality, all nine teams that made it to the tournament at Everest Park in Kirkland from August 10-16 came away winners.
“This was an incredible stretch for these girls,” said Kevin Franklin, manager of the South team. “Just getting here is a huge feat. It’s been their dream for five or six years.”
South comes out of Palma Ceia Little League in Tampa, Fla. The squad started off the week-long tournament on fire, taking out Canada and the Host team of Kirkland National Little League by a combined 29-8. Then the team fell to Latin America and Southwest to end pool play at 2-2, earning the third seed out of Pool A. All teams played round robin in two pools (A and B) before meeting for semifinal games.
Between games, the South team went on a number of adventures to see what the Seattle area had to offer.
The South girls took advantage of the Seattle Mariners’ schedule and got to see a game between the Mariners and their own home team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (the Rays won 8-7). They also took a trip to Mt. Rainier, where a few teammates got an unexpected surprise: snow.
“A few of the girls got to see snow for the first time,” said Natalie Franklin, a member of the South team and Kevin’s daughter. “They just started screaming and jumping in it.”
The 14-year-old said the snowball fights and other fun at Mt. Rainier was one of many highlights of the week.
“It’s been just perfect, a thoroughly enjoyable week,” Franklin said.
The Host team of Kirkland National Little League made every effort to duplicate the feel of going away to a big tournament. The team stayed in a hotel together, had nightly curfews and even had to give up their cell phones at night – by far the most controversial move according to manager Keith Wilson.
“Talk about a revolt against the coach,” Wilson said.
Host finished 1-3 in pool games, highlighted by an 11-0 win over Canada on August 12. But there were no bitter feelings after the big win. In fact, the two teams shared a hotel and struck up a special bond throughout the week.
Wilson said the two teams took part in a moderate prank war through the week and enjoyed spending time together. Host also offered to play an extra game the final day of the tournament against Canada, so the Canadians would have a game to play.
Because Asia Pacific had to drop out due to visa and travel problems, the two pools were uneven. Pool A had five teams, Pool B four, leaving Canada without anyone to play on the final day. The Host team stepped up and took them on in a friendship game.
Wilson said the tournament was about finding the balance between having fun and being competitive. He didn’t want the girls to be embarrassed on the field, but he wanted them to be relaxed and have fun as well. The Host girls also did a number of activities, including a scavenger hunt and a boat ride on Lake Washington.
“We really wanted to prove that we’re meant to be there,” said Molly Ichikawa, a member of the Host team. “Everybody else had to win more tournaments, we just had to win our district. So we really wanted to prove we could play with those teams.”
It’s been a long season for the girls, Ichikawa said. The 15-year-old estimated that the teams had been playing since April.
But Wilson, the Host manager, said it was worth it for the memories they’ll have.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience for them,” Wilson said. “As a coach I’d love to be playing for the championship game, but you move forward and make it a learning experience.”
Other teams in the tournament (pool record): Latin America, Puerto Rico (4-0), Southwest, Louisiana (3-1), Canada, Ontario (0-4), East, Pennsylvania (2-1), Central, Ohio (1-2), Europe, Netherlands (0-3).