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Local team prepares for stint at softball world series
The Little League Junior Softball World Series starts on Aug. 15 in Kirkland and a local group of 13- and 14-year-olds will be playing as the host team.
After winning the District 9 tournament earlier in the month, the combined All Star team from Mercer Island, Bellevue West and the Bellevue Thunderbirds, will be playing at the World Series.
The team is coached by Mike Baumgartner, who has been coaching many on the team since they were 8 years old. The group of girls who are 13 and 14 years old beat Eastlake/Sammamish 8-6 in the title game for their spot at the tournament in Kirkland.
The Little League Junior Softball World Series was created in 1999 and has been played in Kirkland at Everest Park since its inception after John Chadwick’s bid won the vote of the Little League’s Board of Directors.
Ten teams play for a shot at being crowned the world’s best — nine teams from around the globe and the host team. Other teams hail from Canada, the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), Latin America, Asia-Pacific and the five U.S. regions.
For the last four years, the Latin American team has dominated, with Puerto Rico winning in 2009 and 2007. Chadwick said 10 girls from last year’s championship team are returning to the tournament this year.
“The local committee suspects they will do pretty well,” said Chadwick.
The Islander/Bellevue team will face the Latin Americans in their first game, giving them a good idea of what the competition is going to be like, said Baumgartner.
“Most of all, I want the girls to have a great time,” said the coach. “I think we’ll win some games.”
Two weeks prior to the opening ceremonies, the local team was focusing on fundamentals, which Baumgartner said is what they did going into districts and it seemed to work well.
“I totally believe in having the fundamentals down, so by the time we open they’ll have fielded 1,500 ground balls and fly balls,” he said. The team will also be working on various plays, the coach said, with an emphasis on making fewer errors during games.
“If we can make fewer errors then we can wear people down with our defense,” said Baumgartner. He said one of the team’s biggest strengths is how much the girls get along and support each other.
Over a 1,000 people are expected to attend the opening day events, and the championship, which will be broadcast live on ESPN2 for the first time this year.
“Usually it’s on ESPNU, but not very many people have that, and then delayed and rebroadcast on ESPN2 later, but this is the first year it will be live,” said Chadwick. The championship will be held on Aug. 21 at 6 p.m.
“If you like really good softball you have to come see these girls,” he said. “They bring the ball and they play hard. It’s exciting to watch.”
Seeing the other teams and how they play the game is what Makenna Pellerin, who will be a freshman at Mercer Island High School next year is most excited about.
“Just being able to meet the girls and see the ways they play,” she said. For her teammate Lea Gikas, who will be an eighth grader at Chinook Middle School in the fall, it’s the chance to play against really good teams.
“I like the strategy part of the game,” said Claire McCarthy. “I like knowing stuff that only people who know the game can understand.”
As the host team the girls will be in charge of hosting a team night for all the participating players, which Baumgartner said thanks to a generous group of parent volunteers will include food, games and other activities for the girls. Most of all their coach hopes the team realized just what an experience playing at the World Series will be.
“I think they’ll get it,” Baumgartner said of whether or not the team realizes how big playing these games will be. “I think at the opening ceremonies they’ll start to grasp it.”
The team includes: McCarthy, Kathryn Wood, Gikas, Maddie McKanzie, Sarah Yamaura, Brooke Baumgartner, Sydney Tomlinson, Kaitlin Sahlinger, Sydney Hopper, Indy Gants, Taylor Hardy, Maggie Pana, Pellerin and Megan Page.
The event is free and starts off with pool play from Aug. 15 through Aug. 19 and moves into the semifinals on Friday and the championship on Saturday. The opening ceremonies will take place on Sunday, Aug. 15 at noon.
The host team’s first game will be played on Sunday, Aug. 15 at 5:45 p.m. against Latin America and will play Canada on Monday, Aug. 16 at 4:45 p.m.
All games will be available via webcast online at the tournament's Web site.