INDIANAPOLIS — Scoring early and succumbing to late surges became the fateful trend that ended the Riverfield All-Stars season Wednesday afternoon at Ferguson Field.
For the third game in four during pool play of the Little League Softball Central Region tournament, manager Seth Kelley’s girls led by at least two runs early in the game, only to let it slip away — this time to Freeport, Ill. Riverfield lost 10-2, after holding a 2-0 lead after the first inning, and fell to 1-3 in pool play.
“It’s tough. It’s not how I expected it to go,” Kelley said. “I think they just ran out of gas. When we had two outs and had an error in the infield which led to a four-run inning, I think the wheels kinda fell off, and once that happened, it’s really hard to get it back.”
But in the game’s first inning, Kelley’s players looked like they had put Tuesday’s loss to North Ottowa, Mich., behind them. Riverfield managed to squeak out of the top of the first without giving up any runs despite a few early base runners. In the bottom of the inning, lead-off hitter Rachel Duncan started things off with a triple.
Although she was thrown out at the plate later in the inning, her teammates managed to get four more runners on base. Myracle Settles scored off a double from Emma Kelley, and Brianna Tapscott added another off a single from Alyson Milburn to stretch the lead to 2-0.
Riverfield’s manager said he knew that just two runs wouldn’t be enough to hold off Illinois’ offensive firepower he’d seen from scouting them earlier in the week. Yet, he thought that start might be a good signal for things to come.
“We just came out swinging,” he said. “I told them to swing early in the count, and it doesn’t hurt when your lead-off hitting starts with a triple. That always gets things rolling and gets the girls up and pumped.
“I expected Illinois would rally back. I knew two runs wouldn’t be enough to win the game. I thought if you could punch in five or six runs, maybe you could hold them off and beat them.”
As it turns out, even three or four more runs wouldn’t have been enough for Riverfield.
Neither team got much momentum going in the second inning, and Freeport started rolling in the third, scoring with each of its first two batters, but Duncan got out of the inning without further damage.
After the team’s quick start in the first, though, Riverfield went the next four innings getting just one runner on base in each inning, unable to build on the team’s early lead.
And then disaster struck.
In the fifth inning, after Duncan surrendered two early base runners, she managed to get the next two to pop out. Freeport pitcher Tia Clark came up to the plate and hit a hard roller at the Riverfield second baseman, who couldn’t handle it, and Freeport’s first run of four jogged in. The Illinois state champions scored three runs off the next two batters to take a threatening 6-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth, where Riverfield stranded Settles on base after an early double.
Freeport came back and got five straight batters on base off a flustered Duncan, and the runs kept piling on, with sacrifice flies scoring two final runs to leave Riverfield with a 10-2 deficit to make up in the final half-inning.
Although Kelley’s squad made up two runs in the top of the sixth Tuesday against North Ottowa, only to give up the winning run in the bottom of the inning, Freeport had already discouraged Riverfield too much.
Three batters went to the plate, and all three made contact, but all three were thrown out to end the inning, the game and the players’ Little League World Series bid.
“It’s terribly disappointing, but to get this far isn’t a fluke,” Kelley said. “It wasn’t an accident. These girls have worked really hard for a long time to play at the level they play at.
“I’m extremely proud of them.”
Kelley said as many as three girls from this season’s team could be back on the diamond next year for another shot at a return trip to the World Series in Portland, Ore., and even in the tough loss Wednesday, he said he hoped the players all learned about more than just softball.
“They’re going to run into a lot tougher things in life, and it’s my job to teach them that,” he said. “No matter what they do, it’s not over till it’s over. Never quit.”