A month from now, the Kirkland junior softball all-stars will be at it again.
The talented athletes — who recently won the District 9 championship — will be hosting the Junior Little League Softball World Series on July 30-Aug. 5 at Everest Park.
The locals — a combined Kirkland American and Kirkland National squad of 12- to 14-year-olds — defeated the Eastlake junior all-stars, 17-2, in the district final on June 20 at Centennial Field in Snoqualmie. Kaci Gordon hit a three-run home run; Antonia Norman pitched three innings of no-hit softball before giving up two runs in the fourth; and Ruby Olmstead closed the game out in the fifth, giving up no runs while notching three strikeouts.
Gordon, who plays first base and starred for state-qualifier Juanita High this spring, said last year’s World Series was intense, fun and adrenaline-filled. The girls are ready for another go after winning districts.
“It’s a great momentum, really propels us into this World Series,” she said. “A lot of us have been playing year round, so we’re definitely prepared for these games.”
The keys to success for Kirkland will be putting in 100-percent effort and keeping a positive attitude at all times, she said.
“We just need to keep our bats going and play good defense,” Gordon added.
In three district playoff games, Kirkland outscored the opposition, 51-15, with 48 hits.
Gordon, Haley Brown and Maliena Carelli led the team with six hits each, and Abbie Reynolds and Amy Chen had five hits each. Reynolds led the team in RBIs with six, while Brown, Carelli and Chen had five RBIs.
Catcher Anna Fridell said the team’s experience from last year should make it a competitive squad at the World Series.
“We’ve been playing really well as a team and we’ve been getting closer, and that’s really showing on the field that we’ve been playing together for a while,” she said.
Fridell felt the team team played well at districts, and “I think we should just carry that energy to the World Series and play hard,” she added.
Norman and Mackenzie Burke were Kirkland’s starting pitchers at districts. Burke earned the win in the first game, pitching five total innings in the district playoffs, giving up two hits, five runs and striking out eight. Norman earned the wins in the second and third games, pitching seven and two thirds innings in the district playoffs, giving up nine hits, six runs and striking out five.
In relief, Olmstead pitched two and one thirds innings in the playoffs, striking out six. Ashley Allen pitched two innings, striking out four.
Other players who took part in an error-free championship game were Claire Towey, Kaia Bradford, Lilly Bean and Maddy Miller.
“For the most part, we knew we had it on the physical side. We just needed to get it together mentally, and that’s what I think helped us win districts,” said Norman, adding that she felt confident on the mound with her three main pitches: fastball, changeup and screwball. Sometimes, she mixes in a curveball.
Kirkland’s defenders behind her are solid with their gloves, she said.
“I trust my team 100 percent. We’ve been playing together, a lot of us since we were very, very little and I think that’s really added to the team chemistry,” Norman noted.
Second-year junior squad manager Mikal Norman liked what he saw as the players practiced on Monday at Everest Park. Gloves were smacking as players snagged line drives and fired the ball around the infield. Players cheered each other on as parents intently watched from the grandstand.
“This is a good group of kids that love softball,” said Mikal, whose daughter is on the squad, which returns nine of 13 players from last year. “This team really can score, they hit the ball a ton. (There’s) some good consistent pitching.”
Kirkland now sports a wealth of 14-year-olds and Mikal feels the team will match up well with the other World Series squads that also have older girls on board. Last year, Kirkland finished 3-3 with many 13-year-olds on the roster and may have been intimidated by teams with older players, the manager said.
“Before a game, my philosophy is to just remind them to play the way they know how to play already,” noted Mikal, adding that if the players stay within themselves and rise to the occasion, good things will happen.
The World Series draws thousands of spectators to Everest Park and ESPN broadcasts the semifinals and final live.
Eric Chen contributed to this report.