Kirkland shortstop Claire Towey tags a Central runner out at second during Saturday’s final. Courtesy of Eric Chen

Central beats Kirkland, 7-1, in junior softball World Series final

Sometimes, big-time changes occur overnight.

In the case of Kirkland’s all-star team, the girls who lost in Friday night’s semifinals found out this morning that they were not playing in the third-place game. The locals were instead headed for the noon championship contest of the Junior League Softball World Series at Everest Park.

The premier matchup against Central from Poland, Ohio, put the two teams in the ESPN2 spotlight.

Central snagged the title with a 7-1 victory and pitcher Kaili Gross fanned 10 batters.

A Junior League Softball World Series tournament staff member announced this morning that Kirkland was to play in the final. ESPN2 announcers noted on today’s broadcast that the Little League International Tournament Committee disqualified the Southeast squad for violating the Little League policy regarding unsportsmanlike conduct for inappropriate use of social media.

Southeast (Mechanicsville, Va.) beat Kirkland, 1-0, in Friday’s semifinals.

According to The Daily Progress out of Charlottesville, Va., “(Southeast) manager Scott Currie said the posts reflected bad sportsmanship.”

In the final, Central took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, knocking a double and single and then cashing in on a groundout and a wild pitch.

Central went up 3-0 by scoring on an error with the bases loaded in the second inning.

An RBI double, a sacrifice fly and a wild pitch translated into three more runs for Central in the fifth and the visitors went up 6-0.

Kirkland cut the lead to 6-1 in the sixth when Kaia Bradford scored from first on a Lilly Bean single and an error. Runner Haley Brown was cut down at home while trying to score from second on a Kaci Gordon single during the inning.

Central tallied its final run on a triple and an RBI single in the seventh.

Kirkland left Bradford stranded at second in the first after she doubled to start its at-bat.

Defensively for Kirkland, Brown was involved in seven outs at second base; shortstop Claire Towey made a heads-up play to end Central’s fourth by scooping up a ground ball and tagging out the runner bounding off second base; and Maliena Carelli snagged two popups at third base in the sixth inning. Pitcher Ruby Olmstead had six strikeouts.

Kirkland’s Anna Fridell pummeled the ball in the fourth, knocking off the pitcher’s glove, but Gross retrieved the ball and threw the runner out.

Central beat Kirkland, 4-3, earlier in pool play in eight innings.

Kirkland manager Mikal Norman said the girls experienced a roller-coaster ride during the tournament and ended up having a great time.

“It’s been a number of years since a Kirkland team made it to the championship game. It was an unusual way to get there. We would have preferred that we had made it there by actually defeating Southeast in the semifinals, but that didn’t happen and they played a heck of a game and beat us that night,” he said.

DISQUALIFICATION

The Reporter discovered the Southeast’s blurred-out Snapchat photo online that features six players flipping off the camera with a caption that reads, “Watch out host.” (Kirkland was the host team.)

Norman said the photo was posted before the semifinal between Kirkland and the Southeast and was discovered following the game. The photo was removed and the Southeast players apologized to Kirkland’s squad on Friday night.

“We were nothing but nice to them,” Norman said of the Southeast team. “We didn’t have any animosity towards anybody that I know of, and they kicked our butts (16-2) the two days before, so we were certainly not in a position of being aggressive. We like their coaches and the girls played really well.”

Norman said they accepted the apology and Kirkland’s girls were on the field at 7:15 a.m. Saturday morning when they learned of the disqualification and that they would be playing in the final.

Following is an official statement from Little League International:

“After discovering a recent inappropriate social media post involving members of Atlee Little League’s Junior League Softball tournament team, the Little League International Tournament Committee has removed the Southeast Region from the 2017 Junior League Softball World Series for violation of Little League’s policies regarding unsportsmanlike conduct, inappropriate use of social media, and the high standard that Little League International holds for all its participants. The Tournament Committee will advance the Host Region from Kirkland American/National Little League to participate in the championship game, scheduled for Saturday, August 5 at 3 p.m. eastern time in Kirkland, Wash.”

Norman said he feels sorry for the Southeast girls who weren’t involved in the incident and that a light has shown in the social-media direction instead of on the field.

Discussions went far beyond scores and stats during the tournament.

“I think everybody learned, everybody who was part of this and anybody who was at that tournament who now knows the story, and (it) definitely is a very hard lesson and an unfortunate one for that team,” Norman said.

Tournament director John Chadwick had no comment on the disqualification. He noted that at the championship game, “It was business as usual, if you wanna call it that.”

On the tournament overall, he added: “(Am I) happy?, no, because we had so many incidents, but satisfied?, yes — the tournament proceeded and accomplished its goal of crowning a champion.”

SIGNS INCIDENT

In Friday night’s game, according to ESPN2, Norman and a Kirkland player were ejected by an umpire, who felt they were trying to steal signs from the Southeast team.

Chadwick said that in the umpire’s judgment, the player, who was on second base, “was trying to steal signs and signal the batter.”

Chadwick added that the rulebook states that a player can’t attempt to steal signs and signal the batter where the pitch is going, and the penalty for doing so is the player and the manager is ejected. (Kirkland coach John Allen was acting manager in the final and the ejected player didn’t play in the game.)

Norman said Kirkland doesn’t steal signs.

Norman was upset about the ruling and added that he wasn’t looking out of the dugout at that moment, but was making notes in his scorebook. He told the girls that the umpire made the call and they had to live with it and play their game.

“My personal opinion is you had a 14-year-old girl got really, really excited on the basepaths about having gotten herself to second base with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning,” Norman said. “She’s playing to her coach and she’s signalling to him that she’s got the signals for the play that we’re running, and she’s pumping her chest and playing to her teammates and trying to rally the troops. The umpire thought he saw something that I personally know wasn’t there, but, you know, the umpire’s a part of the game.”

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