North Whidbey Juniors finish fourth overall

One bad inning was all it took to end the North Whidbey Little League Junior All-Star softball team’s state tournament run Tuesday evening at Windjammer Park.

A series of walks, errors and bloop base hits in the top of the first inning resulted in seven Northeast Seattle Little League runs and an eventual 10-4 season-ending loss for NWLL.

“We got one out right off the bat,” North Whidbey manager Dave Jackson said. “Then it was boom: error, error, walk, bloop another error.”

After retiring the lead-off hitter, NWLL committed three errors, allowed three walks and had two bloop hits fall in front of them for the 7-0 first-inning deficit.

It was the third consecutive state game that North Whidbey started out shaky — in particular on defense. According to Jackson, the recent defensive woes weren’t something that’s hurt the local group of 13-14 year-old all-stars prior to the state tournament.

“I think it was a little bit of pressure, fatigue and social life,” he said.

NWLL had just two available pitchers, who were forced to rotate starts every other day during the state tournament.

Despite the recent overtime work from the pitching circle, Tuesday’s starter Kayla Ratliff was able to hone in and keep North Whidbey in the contest after the tough first inning.

“It was obvious that she was tired,” Jackson said. “After the first inning she just gutted it out.”

Ratliff scattered 11 more hits throughout the remaining six innings, but allowed only two more earned runs.

Offense production was a challenge on Tuesday, but NWLL, which has earned a reputation as a team that can come back from any deficit, had its chances to do it again.

“They almost did it tonight,” Jackson said. “They were one hit away from breaking back into it.”

With one out in the bottom of the sixth, North Whidbey rallied for two runs after a single from Kaylee Meders, walks from Kim Mowbray and Ratliff and a two-RBI single from Alexis Marquis. The RBI hit brought NWLL within 9-3 and left two runners on with only one out. They eventually loaded the bases with two outs, but were unable to push any more runs across.

North Whidbey did it again in the seventh, loading the bases with no outs. They were able to push one more run across on a one-out RBI single from Ratliff, but were retired on consecutive strikeouts to close out the game.

Both Northeast Seattle pitchers had live fastballs, but more importantly accurate changeups — something Jackson said his girls hardly ever saw.

“When they throw that 15 mph floater and you’re not ready, you’re dead meat,” he said.

With the loss, North Whidbey finished in fourth place of eight teams, matching the feat of another NWLL Junior team just a few years ago.

Jackson was pleased with the finish, especially when comparing the amount of girls the Oak Harbor team has to draw from compared to the other metropolitan teams in the tournament.

“We’re pulling from 30 girls and they’re pulling from hundreds,” he said.

Jackson said he hopes this year’s success will carry over to the Oak Harbor High School team next year. The Wildcat fastpitch team has only won one game in the past two seasons.

“Our goal was make the high school better this next year and I think we’re going to do that,” he said. “I think we’ve shown the community at least that we’re going to be better.”

North Whidbey won two games during the state tournament, defeating Pac West of South Seattle, 24-0 and Lacamas of the Vancouver, Wash., area 10-9. The only other loss of the tournament came in the second round, 9-8, to Fife-Milton.

Marysville won the state tournament, beating Northeast Seattle 9-3 and will now advance to Tuscon, Ariz., for the West Regional Tournament, Aug. 4.

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