MARANA, Ariz. - If Thursday's game was easy for Milton-Freewater's Junior All-Stars, Saturday's was anything but. The softballers battled through scorching Arizona heat en route to an 11-7, extra-innings, gut-check win over the All-Stars from Northern California Saturday.
The win puts the girls into their pool championship against Alaska this evening at 7. The winner of that game has a chance to play for the Western Regional Championship. Win there, and the team goes to the Junior World Series in Kirkland, Wash., beginning Aug. 15.
Starting pitcher Colette Roberts pitched a complete game for M-F - including the extra innings - striking out 21 batters over nine innings.
Although the seventh inning was the key inning for M-F, manager Lance Bullock said the sixth was the turning point.
"We definitely got a late start," Bullock said. "We scored one in the sixth inning, and that's when our crowd really started helping us out. Moms were pacing, they were excited, then they started getting some good cheers and got the girls pumped up," he said. "That's when we really started hitting the ball hard and made the defense make plays - it was do or die."
Northern California also scored in the sixth, and by the top of the seventh M-F was down 5-3 with two outs and nobody on. One more out, and M-F was done.
That's when the girls answered in a big way. Adriene Streeter and Stefanie Copeland had back-to-back hits to put two on. Roberts, also a threat with a bat, took the plate as the go-ahead run and smashed an inside-the-park home run to put Milton-Freewater ahead 6-5.
It could have ended there, but Northern California managed a run in response and put the game into extra innings.
In the ninth, the dam built by Northern California's starting pitcher Brandi Gilliam, who also pitched a complete game, finally burst and a flood of M-F runs crossed home.
Catcher Katy Woodhall led off with a triple for M-F and the rout was on. Before the inning ended, Milton-Freewater batted through its line up and scored five runs on six hits and an error.
"(Gilliam) had a really good riseball, she kept us off balance through the whole game," Bullock said. "In the ninth inning we finally caught up to her and started to hit well; we hit her well in the seventh, also."
Northern California only managed a run in response in the bottom of the ninth, and the marathon in a sauna finally ended.
"It was hard to keep the girls happy," Bullock said. "It was so hot, one of my coaches even had some heat problems; the umpires, the players, everybody had a tough time in the heat."
Milton-Freewater should have some relief from the heat tonight when it plays Alaska, Bullock said.
"It's going to be nice to get that sun out of the sky," said Bullock.
Milton-Freewater 11, Northern California 7.
M-F 200 001 305 - 11 17 5
NoCal 002 021 101 - 7 12 4