October 26, 2014

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Little League Softball World Series: Elyria East All-Stars suffer first loss, but still have eye on making semifinals

Mike Weber
Special to the Chronicle

PORTLAND, Ore. — After two blowout wins, Elyria East found itself in a close game Sunday in the Little League Softball World Series.

This time, East came up a little short, falling 2-1 to Virginia’s All-Stars at Alpenrose Stadium.

“This was a really good game against a great team and we struggled against their pitcher (Kathryn Sandercock),” said East manager Len Howser, whose team can still make it to Tuesday’s nationally televised semifinals (ESPN2) with a win tonight. “She was the hardest throwing pitcher we’ve seen so far in the tournament. It was a great game, but they just made a few less mistakes than we did and played a little better than us.”

It was a key matchup with both teams hoping to remain undefeated in pool play.

While Elyria fell, it can clinch second place in the five-team Pool A with a win tonight at 10 o’clock against Maunabo, Puerto Rico (1-2), the Latin America champions.

Based on comparative scores, Elyria should have a good chance to beat Puerto Rico, which lost 6-5 to Oregon. Elyria beat Oregon 12-1.

Sunday’s game was a classic pitchers duel with both teams struggling at the plate. Elyria outhit Virginia 5-4, but just couldn’t get the key hit when it needed it.

Virginia took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, taking advantage of two Elyria errors.

Elyria starting pitcher April Howser had a strong performance, throwing the first two innings and allowing just two hits while striking out one. Faith Hamilton took over in the third inning.

Sandercock, Virginia’s hard-throwing starter, allowed just three hits and no runs through the first three innings.

Elyria tied the game in the fourth with a two-out rally. Gabby Shackelford drew a one-out walk and she scored on an RBI double by Damia Parks (2-for-3), who blasted a ball to center.

“I was nervous in my at-bat, because I had two strikes,” Parks said. “So I just focused on hitting the ball and it sure felt good to get a big hit like that. I love being here at the World Series. I knew we had a strong team, but I didn’t know that we were going to make it this far.”

Elyria’s solid defense held Virginia scoreless in bottom of the inning, thanks in large part to Parks’ clutch grab of a fly ball in center.

Elyria had a scoring opportunity in the top of the fifth and a chance to gain the lead with two runners on base after Maegan Phares and Howser connected for singles, but both were left stranded.

In the sixth, Elyria had another chance as Shackelford drew a leadoff walk and Hamilton reached base on a fielder’s choice. Parks then connected on an infield single, putting two runners on.

Elyria’s fleet-footed pinch runner Kaeli Evans, running for Hamilton, stole third. But with two outs, Evans tried to steal home only to get thrown out as Virginia catcher Elizabeth Hoeymans made the defensive play of the game.

“I decided that we needed to try to steal home, because the pitcher appeared to be a little nervous at the time,” Len Howser said. “I thought that the combination of us having runners at second and third and her feeling somewhat frustrated. We took a chance and just came up a little short in a close play at home.”

TONIGHT

WHO: Elyria East vs. Maunabo, Puerto Rico
WHAT: Game 4 of pool play
TIME: 10 o’clock
WHERE: Alpenrose Stadium, Portland, Ore.
RADIO: WEOL 930-AM
WEB: Streamed live and free on www.softballworldseries.com