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Kirkland team to reclaim Junior Softball World Series host berth; tournament format to change
The Junior Softball World Series had one of its most controversial finishes in its history last year. Allegations of teams quitting on offense to take advantage of tournament rules in order to advance out of pool play overshadowed a historic performance by the host team.
But this year organizers are hoping to put the successes on the field back into the limelight by taking the tie-breaker by runs scored out of the pool play equation.
“Last year, and many years in the past, people have claimed that teams threw a game to avoid a tie,” said Junior Softball World Series Tournament Director John Chadwick. “We made the change right after the tournament last year.”
The event will take place at Everest Field near downtown Kirkland on Aug. 11-17.
This year the 10 teams will compete in pool play from Monday through Thursday. Their pool play record will determine seeding for the championship tournament, held Friday through Sunday. The bottom two teams in each pool-play division will not qualify for the tournament.
“It was done to avoid the conflicts with the [total score] ties. We were just annoyed, but that isn’t a strong enough word, at the continuous bickering last year,” said Chadwick. “We worked with Williamsport to make the change right after the tournament last year. It is now win or your out, single elimination. You can’t manipulate the pool play standings anymore.”
Williamsport, Penn. is the home of the Little League Baseball and Softball organization. The tournament in Kirkland is the premier event for girls softball players ages 13-14.
The championship game, which draws between 1,500-2,000 spectators, is perennially broadcast on ESPN. This year will be no different with the cameras fixed on Everest Park in Kirkland and Chadwick is expecting the tournament to bring in 10,000 people overall.
The teams will come from as far away as Asia and Italy to play in the tournament. The squads have to win tournaments in the home areas. Those areas include the East (US), Southeast (US), Southwest (US), Central (US), West (US), Philippines, Europe (Italy), Latin America (Mexico) and Canada (BC or Ontario).
Chadwick hopes that attendance will be higher than last year with increased advertising and with some of the areas participating this year.
“We are hoping more in the hispanic community will come out and support the team from Mexico,” said Chadwick. “They have had good support in the past.”
The Southwest team is expected to be from the Tampa, Fla. area.
“They were here two years ago and brought a good crowd,” said Chadwick.
The host team will again represent Washington Little League District 9 with 10 of the 13 players from last year.
That team from Kirkland achieved something last year that no host team has since 2002 by qualifying for the semifinals and ultimately placing third overall.
The team’s players are predominantly from Kirkland and the roster includes Tori Bivens, Carly Campana, Alex Hanger, Kayla Henry, Tatum Kawabata, Juliana Lynch, Lisa Nelson, Gianna Paribello, Brynn Radke, Natalie Vetto, Hannah Walker and Kristina Warford. Nolan Radke is the team’s manager, assisted by coaches Steve Bivens and John Warford.
Nolan Radke has managed a portion of the host team since they played t-ball at 5 years old. He said in addition to placing third in last year’s World Series, the team also won state in 2009-2011.
He said the team’s biggest challenge this year will be playing against the southern teams, which play year-round. His team has only played for three months.
However, this year the Kirkland team has maturity on their side.
“We were the youngest team in the tournament last year, with three girls who were 13 and the rest were 14, whereas the west (Alaska) team had one girl who was 14 and the rest were 15,” Nolan Radke said. “We will be an older team this year, bigger, stronger, more experience.”
He added the team also has two outstanding pitchers - Nelson and Bivens - who “keep the team in the game.”
“It also helps that the team has been together so long that the girls know each others’ strengths and weaknesses and can help each other out,” he said.
Nolan Radke said his team also believes they can win.
“They know at any given time in the game someone can come through and break it open. They have confidence in their teammates to make a play or get a hit, so they are always supportive and cheering each other on,” he said. “Historically the host team doesn’t do very well because they don’t have to go through state and regionals to qualify. Last year, we surprised a few folks, so that was fun.”
Chadwick hopes that the experience for the girls participating is one they will remember for the rest of their lives.
“I ran into some girls who played in the tournament four years ago and they said they still correspond with players from Europe,” said Chadwick. “We want them to develop friendships with new people from different cultures and just have better citizenship.”
That aim will be aided by the new format, with more focus on competition and less focus on the rules of the tournament.
“It was disappointing to have such a focus on that last year,” said Chadwick, who has been director for a decade-and-a-half. “The biggest change during the past 15 years has been the skills of the girls. They are phenomenally better and a lot more competitive than 15 years ago. We want to have that be the focus this year.”
Detailed information on the World Series can be found at www.jrsoftballworldseries.com.