The Southeast champs out of Salisbury, N.C., put together four straight wins, three of them shutouts, to claim the 2015 Little League Softball World Series title Wednesday night at Alpenrose Dairy.
That streak concluded with a 4-2 win over Rhode Island in the finale, with North Carolina getting off to a quick start that set the stage for ace pitcher Kali Morton.
Southeast did all of its damage in the first inning.
Allison Ennis knocked a lead-off single through the left side. Caitlin Mann drew a walk and Taylor Walton had a pitch clip her ankle to load the bases. Ellen Yang then pounced on the opportunity with a bases-clearing double into right field that prompted Rhode Island to make an early pitching change.
“If felt good to score all those runs and get ahead in the championship game,” Yang said.
The break in play didn't slow North Carolina, as Morton stepped into the box and delivered a double to center field to stretch the margin to 4-0.
Rhode Island pushed across runs in the middle innings on an RBI-single by Dyonna Rodas in the third and a fielder's choice by Hailey Mackinnon in the fourth.
But Morton held to the form she had shown all Series and retired the last seven batters she faced — three by strikeout — to close out the victory.
North Carolina outscored its opponents 43-6 for the week, with the team’s only loss coming early in pool play 3-1 against Central Iowa. The Southeast champs hit a collective .291 for the tournament, led by Yang, who was 5-for-10 with five RBIs, while drawing three walks, while Ennis hit 8-for-18 (.444) and scored seven times. Morton finished with a 0.55 ERA and struck out 21 for the tournament.
Playing for runner-up Rhode Island, Dyonna Rodas was a force at the plate, hitting 9-for-18 (.500) with two doubles and two triples, highlighted by winning triple against Puerto Rico that kept her team in contention. Pinch-runner Olivia Murray scored a Series-high nine times and hit 4-for-6 (.667) while playing as a reserve.
Central’s Mikayla Houge was a force both at the plate and in the pitcher's circle for the Iowa team to beat Texas 9-2 in Wednesday's third-place game. Houge hit 10-for-18 (.556), best among starters at the Series, with two extra-base hits and five runs scored. She totaled almost 30 innings in the circle, finishing with a 4-1 record and a 0.66 ERA, while averaging 7.5 strikeouts per game.
UGANDA SHINES: International teams struggled at this year's tournament, failing to get anyone into the semifinals after going a collective 2-12 (.143) against their U.S. foes. But Uganda, the first African team at the Series, produced some highlights with a pair of pool-play wins over Rhode Island and Latin America. Cissy Nakimuli was the team’s star, hitting 5 for 10 with three RBIs, while also being their most steady pitcher with seven strikeouts and a 1.26 ERA.
SERIES CONTROVERSY: The Series hit some controversy on Monday when the West squad out of South Snohomish, Wash., was ruled to have purposefully lost its final pool-play game in an effort to create an easier path for itself to the title game.
Snohomish was in position to go unbeaten in pool B before dropping an 8-0 decision to the Southeast in a game that saw West manager Fred Miller relegate his top players to subs, while also keeping ace pitcher Makayla Miller out of the circle. She had thrown all of the team's innings in Regionals and the Series. Reports told of the West side swinging at pitches in the dirt and bunting with two strikes. They ended up suffering a no-hitter, after averaging almost eight runs per game earlier in the week.
“The Little League International Tournament Committee recently received credible reports that some teams did not play with the effort and spirit appropriate for any Little League game,” Little League officials released in a statement.
Series officials ruled for an unprecedented play-in game between the West and Central on Tuesday morning to determine the pool's No. 2 team into the semifinals. Central won that showdown 3-2.
The West returned to the field Wednesday morning to beat Uganda 4-1 in the fifth-place game, but the Snohomish squad was a no show for the closing ceremonies later that night.