For the second consecutive year, the White Pine Little League softball juniors team was competing in the West regionals, this time in Tucson, AZ.
The reward if White Pine won the regionals: a trip to the Little League Softball World Series in Kirkland, WA as the West representative.
White Pine head coach Blake Hayward said he wanted his players to enjoy the moment and all the work they put in leading up to the regionals would come to fruition.
“When we went in I told them, ‘I want to make sure they have fun,’” Hayward said. “Because they’re all starting to go into high school, I wanted to make sure it’s about the experience and everything else will take care of itself.”
Right from the jump, White Pine was playing from behind as they had to deal with the 110-degree heat and their first opponent, Baldwin Park Little League of Los Angeles.
However, that was not going to stop White Pine from playing the way they know how. Both teams traded a run before the fourth inning.
Baldwin Park then scored four times and then added five runs between the sixth and the seventh innings. Offensively, White Pine scored once in the sixth, and could not get the comeback going scoring just two runs, en route to a 10-4 loss and already finding themselves facing elimination on the first day.
White Pine had to turn things around and not go two and out in the regionals.
Facing Pilot Rock Little League of Oregon in the second game White Pine came to play. They tacked on two early runs in the first, added another in the fourth and put the finishing touches with three in the fifth as they limited Pilot Rock to not score until the seventh inning.
White Pine won 6-1, they were a completely different team from the opener. After committing six errors against Baldwin Park earlier in the day, White Pine did not commit any miscues in the score book. Blake’s daughter, Paige, dominated in the circle. Paige threw a complete game, lasting seven innings and struck out 13 for the win.
Offensively, White Pine had multiple players record a couple of hits, including Merissa Carson, Ainsley Giles and Camden Johnson. In addition, Addie Costello had two runs batted in.
White Pine looked to continue to remain afloat in the West Regionals the next day, facing Washington Little League of Utah.
For seven innings, Paige Hayward was more dominant than the night before. After allowing three hits to Pilot Rock, she allowed just one hit and struck out 16 hitters in a 3-0 shutout, White Pine lived to play another game.
Blake Hayward said Paige’s ability to fire 14 consecutive innings on one-run ball on four hits and 29 strikeouts is proof to the work ethic and the opportunity to peak leading up to the regionals.
“It’s a testament to how hard she’s throwing,” Hayward said of his daughter. “Showing that the work she’s putting in is finally paying off during the offseason and during the season. It’s just starting to show that she’s becoming a better pitcher.”
With the win, White Pine was one win away from the semifinals and three away from the Little League Softball World Series.
White Pine faced the tournament host, Marana Little League, who had lost earlier in the day to Magnolia Little League of Washington, 10-5.
As a result, White Pine was going into the game with the energy they needed rather than their opponent, who was looking to rebound.
Hayward’s team jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first inning and Paige Hayward was back in the circle looking to control the game from the circle. It was a pitchers’ duel between Hayward and Aubriana Gray of Marana.
However, like the game against Baldwin Park, the errors returned, as White Pine once again committed six miscues, which turned out to be the difference as the offense was unable to make up for the costly errors. White Pine lost 7-4 to Marana and concluded its All-Star run in the quarterfinals of the 2023 West Regionals.
Marana would eventually go on to win the West Regionals and move on to the Little League Softball World Series.
A long six-month season has come to an end but the offseason begins.
After a short break, the players are going to get back into it during the fall and winter as most of this All-Star team will play together on a travel ball team.
Overall, Hayward said this was a memorable All-Star experience, especially having to overcome an underdog mentality.
“They never gave up in this tournament, got nervous or anything else,” Hayward said. “They stayed in the moment indeed. That’s all I can ask for. They played their behinds off in this tournament and should be very proud of themselves. We’re by far the smallest town that was in that tournament, but it’s a testament to those girls and how they stuck together and gained this experience.”