Kirkland unloaded with six runs in the top of the third inning and put a stamp on a 9-5 victory over the Southeast on Wednesday in the Little League Softball World Series opener at Alpenrose Stadium in Portland, Oregon.
In the ESPN+-streamed game, Kirkland — representing the West — scored all six runs in the third with two outs as 11 batters visited the plate and the locals bolted up, 9-3. Emma Pascal had a two-RBI single with the bases loaded and Kaidence Caiola also delivered a big blast with a towering bases-clearing triple to the left-field corner. Christina Minor walked with the bases loaded as Kirkland notched another run.
“It was refreshing because I really wanted to get a big hit,” Caiola said of her triple.
Kirkland was hot out of the gate with three runs in the top of the first inning on an RBI single from Kya Aldrich and a two-RBI single from Hailey Story. Caiola singled and Bella Ely doubled and each scored.
Southeast (Gray, Tennessee) answered with two runs in the bottom of the first on a two-RBI single with the bases loaded, and tied it up 3-3 in the second on an RBI single. Southeast tried to score another run on the latter single but the runner was thrown out at the plate to end the second inning. Southeast added a run in the fourth on a bases-loaded single and one run in the sixth.
“It was pretty nervewracking when they scored their three runs. I think we were kind of scared — but we came back,” said Caiola, noting that before their turn at bat in the third inning, the girls spoke about staying calm and keeping their heads high no matter what transpired.
Minor pitched two innings and was relieved by Aldrich in the third. Minor returned to the mound with no outs and two runners on in the sixth and closed the door with a groundout, popout and strikeout.
Caiola had three hits, Minor and Story had two each and Aldrich, Ely, Pascal and Emily Nielsen had one hit each.
Kirkland manager Chris Cook said that solid bats were the key to victory.
“We came out swinging at good pitches and limited our bad swings. The girls were a bit nervous as I think all the teams are right now, but getting the first game in the books and with a win was great. I expect us to settle down a bit from here on out,” he said.
Cook added that along with supplying hitting firepower, Caiola was stellar in center field as were the other Kirkland outfielders, who snatched up balls and quickly fired them back to the infielders to limit Tennessee from taking extra bases.
Kirkland doesn’t have a game today, but the girls will be trying to tighten up their defense during a practice session.
The Kirkland side of the stands was filled with local fans on Wednesday and Cook said it was awesome to seem them cheering for the girls, who feed off the support. He hopes more fans travel to Portland for the upcoming games.
Caiola said she and her teammates are thrilled to be part of the electric World Series atmosphere.
“I feel very important because people have come all this way to see you play,” said Caiola, adding that the girls are having fun off the field as well. “It’s definitely a time for bonding. Hanging out. We go swimming and we stay together as a team.”
They’ve made friends with girls from other teams who are just as happy to be there, and Google Translate came in handy when the girls visited with the Latin America players.
Beginning with the Western Regional in San Bernardino, California, Kirkland’s games have been live-streamed on ESPN+ and the announcers are keeping tabs on the girls, discussing their favorite professional players, nicknames and prowess on the field. Cameras are positioned in parts of the stadiums and the spotlight is on the players.
“The first game, we paid attention to the cameras, but after that, we just focused on playing the best we could,” Caiola said. “It’s fun to see what the announcers say about you.”
Kirkland will continue four-game Pool A action against Europe-Africa (Prague, Czech Republic) at 1 p.m. Friday and then play the East (Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania) at 9 a.m. Saturday and then Canada (Victoria, British Columbia) at 7 p.m. Sunday. Elimination play begins on Monday.