By David Ball, Contributing Writer
Photo | COURTESY DAVID BALL, GRESHAM OUTLOOK/SANDY POST/ESTACADA NEWS
PORTLAND, Ore. – A group of middle schoolers from East Jefferson took the national stage last week as the Eastbank All-Stars reached the championship game of the Little League Softball World Series at Alpenrose Dairy in Portland, Oregon.
Eastbank dropped a 4-1 decision in a hard-fought finale to Salisbury, North Carolina, in a game aired by ESPN on Aug. 14.
The Salisbury squad put its first four hitters on base to take a quick 2-0 lead before Eastbank called reliever Archbishop Chapelle’s Kayla Giardina to the circle.
Salisbury used a bunt to bring in another run, but Giardina killed the rally when she caught a line drive at her face and calmly threw to third base to double off Salisbury’s lead runner.
“The ball was hit, and it was just reflexes, then I’m always thinking about the next play,” Giardina said. “It stopped them from scoring.”
Giardina dominated on the mound the rest of the way, allowing only one single while striking out three batters.
Trailing 4-0, Eastbank put themselves on the scoreboard in the third inning when Olivia Bourgeois, a student at Mount Carmel Academy, drew a leadoff walk, and teammate Hailey Peterson of Haynes drilled a single that dropped just inside the left-field chalk.
Next up, Bailey Nelson of Mount Carmel poked her bat into the zone and sent a heavy spinner into the air. Salisbury saw two players collide trying to make the catch, and Nelson reached safely to load the bases.
Giardina stepped up next and put a ground ball in play that allowed Bourgeois to score from third for what would prove to be the team’s only run.
Salisbury threw a runner out at the plate, and pitcher Campbell Schaen ended the threat with a strikeout.
The Eastbank defense carried the momentum into the bottom of the third when Peterson and Ava Burkett, a student at Harry Hurst, gobbled up ground balls for out, while Giardina struck out the last batter to retire the side in order.
Eastbank survived a scare in the fourth inning thanks to the persistent play of Archbishop Chapelle’s Damari Harris at first base. A heavy spinner came her way and refused to stick in her glove, allowing Salisbury a pair of base runners.
Moments later, another sharp grounder came her way. This time Harris got her glove in the dirt to cleanly scoop the ball before taking two quick strides to first base to end the inning.
Eastbank put together another scoring threat in the fifth inning, with Giardina sending a ground ball through the left side and teammate Raegan Porche of St. Catherine of Siena taking a pitch on the elbow to load the bases.
Salisbury escaped unharmed with another Schaen strikeout – she had nine for the night.
Needing three runs before it registered three outs in its final at-bats, Eastbank put together one last-gasp effort when St. Rita of Harahan’s Ava Lusco sliced a hit down the first-base line. Salisbury was slow to return the ball to the infield, and Lusco scrambled safely into second base.
“I was happy that I got a hit – I really wanted to get something going,” Lusco said. “I saw their fielder turn the other way, and I just kept going.”
Pinch-runner Libby Duthu, a student at St. Catherine of Siena, would advance to third, but could get no farther before Salisbury shortstop Kynlee Dextraze caught a line drive to end the game.
“We created opportunities, we just didn’t finish them,” Eastbank manager Ray Weindel said. “Southeast did a good job limiting us, so you have to give credit to them.”
The Salisbury squad was the only team to defeat Eastbank at the Series, starting the week with a 7-0 win. Eastbank bounced back to win its remaining three pool-play games by a combined 30-6 count.
That included a thrilling 3-2 win over host Oregon – a victory secured when Giardina struck out the last batter, stranding the tying run at second base.
Eastbank scored a 1-0 win over Mexico City in Monday’s quarterfinals, getting the game’s only run in the fourth inning when Ava Palumbo (Haynes) scored on a ground ball by Burkett.
Eastbank retired the side in order each of the last two innings with Giardina accounting for five of the six outs – two on ground balls and three on strikeouts. The game ended with a roller to Harris at first base.
Eastbank followed that with a 9-1 semifinal win over Milano, Italy. Porche hit 2-for-3 with a double and scored both times she got on base.
David Ball is sports editor for the Gresham Outlook/Sandy Post/Estacada News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.