This year’s Little League Softball World Series will boast a strong international flavor when the teams arrive at Portland’s Alpenrose Field this week.
Despite mixed international success — only one international team, Rosario Paoli out of Puerto Rico in 2001, has hoisted the championship trophy in the 41-year history of the tournament, and teams from overseas have gone a combined 18-57 (.240) over the past five years — some familiar faces could be contenders this week.
Puerto Rico’s ASOFEM squad made a run to the semifinals in 2013, while Victoria, B.C., gave last year’s champ, Robbinsville, N.J., it’s biggest challenge before falling short 3-0 to open pool play.
Also adding to the international intrigue is the first appearance by a team out of Africa, with Uganda claiming all five of its regional games over European foes, capped by a 6-5 championship win over Italy.
“I’m holding my enthusiasm until airplane tickets are purchased and visas are processed, but it’s huge — it’s a historic moment,” said Bob Hudlow, tournament director.
Hudlow doesn’t expect any complications for the Ugandans’ arrival, although last year the Asia-Pacific team from the Philippines arrived several days late and had to forfeit two games.
Although the international teams are on the rise, the five regional champs from the United States remain the frontrunners for the tournament, led by the Central Region champs out of Slater, Iowa, who outscored their regional foes 53-3. The Iowa squad slipped past Indiana 2-1 in the title game with Abby Husak scoring the winning run on a wild pitch in the fourth inning. Indiana put the tying run on third base only to see Iowa pitcher Mikayla Houge end the game with a strikeout.
The Central champs had four batters hit better than .500, led by Houge with three doubles, while Skylar Rigby scored a team-best 10 runs. The Iowa team didn’t surrender a run through its four pool-play games.
West Region champ Snohomish, Wash., also looks to be a force in Pool B and figures to garner plenty of fan support, as its hometown is just a three-hour drive from the stadium.
“Most years the West gives us a team from California or Hawaii, so it will be nice to have another team from the Great Northwest in the mix this time,” Hudlow said.
Snohomish is powered by pitcher Mikayla Miller, who tossed a no-hitter in the semifinals. She surrendered two runs across six regional matchups, averaging 7.2 strikeouts per game.
Despite a young lineup that includes a majority of 11-year-olds, Rowan, N.C., won the Southeast finale with a 2-0 decision over two-time Series champ Warner Robins, Ga. Rowan pitcher Kali Morton threw all but one inning at regionals, finishing with 22 strikeouts and a 0.32 ERA.
Pool A looks to be a showdown between East champ Warwick, R.I. and Southwest champ Seguin, Texas.
The Rhode Island all-stars notched first-inning runs in all five of its regional wins, highlighted by an 11-run outburst in a 15-0 win over Maryland. But the team survived a scare in the title game with a 3-2 win over Delaware, freezing the tying run at third base on a pair of strikeouts by Sierra Ricci. Subs Sophia DeTroia and Hailey Mackinnon combined to hit 8-for-12 (.667) with a pair of doubles at regionals.
The Seguin squad scored a pair of close wins over a fellow Texas team out of San Antonio, using a three-run spurt in the sixth inning to claim a 6-4 comeback win in the finale. The team’s pitching staff went three deep during the tournament, combining for a 0.75 ERA.
Opening ceremonies for the Little League Softball World Series are set for Wednesday afternoon, followed by the Easton Skills Challenge. Pool play games begin Thursday at Alpenrose — a working dairy on the outskirts of Portland – and the tournament runs through Aug. 15.
“The Cadonau family has been generous in donating this facility over the years — it’s a great place to play,” Hudlow said. “It’s a chance of a lifetime for these girls to showcase themselves on ESPN.”
The semifinals and championship game will be televised to a national audience.
The Southwest and Southeast regions have crowned the most champions over the years with 13 apiece. Host state Oregon has had two champions — Medford in 1975 and Gresham in 1981. Midway Little League out of Waco, Texas, has the most titles, winning the Series 11 times during a dominating stretch from 1992-2004.