The North Ottawa Youth Softball Association U14 All-Stars saw their dream of reaching the Little League World Series dashed in the championship game of the regional tournament on Thursday.
The NOYSA All-Stars survived their semifinal showdown with Iowa, winning a thriller, 4-3.
But in the regional championship game, NOYSA’s typically reliable defense committed four errors, which allowed Ohio to score six unearned runs. Ohio managed just seven hits off NOYSA pitchers Leah Vaughan and Madelyn Nelson. The pair combined to walk only three batters.
NOYSA won its opener on Thursday over Iowa, 4-3, to advance to the regional title game.
“In the first game of the day against Iowa, we jumped out to a 4-0 lead, then they climbed to within one and made it 4-3 after two (innings),” coach Kolbey Nelson said. “Then we shut them out after that. We made a pitching change and allowed zero runs. We liked how we were looking going into the second game, but the Ohio team attacked the ball earlier and often. They were hitting it hard, hitting it long, and when they did hit it in the infield, we kicked it around a little bit.
“We just couldn’t get out of that first inning.”
NOYSA actually outhit the state champions from Ohio, 9-7, and grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
But in the bottom of the first, Ohio led off with a triple. A pair of passed balls allowed the first run to score, then a pair of errors and a double helped Ohio grab a 5-2 lead.
That advantage grew to 7-2 in the second inning after NOYSA committed another error, then ballooned to 9-2 in the third.
NOYSA battled back with a run in the top of the fourth as Jenna Core tripled and scored on a groundout by Molly Poole.
NOYSA tried to rally again in the top of the sixth and managed two runs thanks to base hits by Kileah Rymal, Nelson and Linsey Paggeot.
A groundout to second base ended the game.
Nelson noted that the NOYSA squad had a tough call go against it late in the game as a runner on third base was ruled to have left the bag early when trying to tag up and go home on a fly ball.
Nelson and Paggeot each finished with two hits and a run scored for the NOYS All-Stars. Vaughan, Taylor Dew, Lauren Hellberg, Core and Rymal also added hits.
Vaughan pitched the game’s opening inning and was roughed up as she allowed three hits and a walk, which led to a pair of earned runs.
Nelson pitched the final four innings and allowed just four hits and two walks while striking out two.
“No team has really hit Leah,” Nelson said. “When she’s throwing strikes, they weren’t hitting her. But this team was hitting her hard, and the defense let her down.
“We made a pitching change because we’ve seen other finesse pitchers have more success against (Ohio), so we brought Madelyn in to throw a lot of change-ups and screw balls, try to keep them off balance, and it worked.
“We only allowed four runs in the final innings, and three of them were unearned.”
In Thursday’s earlier game, it was Wisconsin that couldn’t make the plays on defense, committing a pair of costly errors that helped the NOYSA All-Stars claim a gritty 4-3 win.
In that contest, NOYSA started out on fire, scoring four runs in the top of the first inning. Nelson led off with a single, then Paggeot drew a walk and Vaughan reached on an error to load the bases.
Nelson came around to score when Wisconsin booted a ball hit by Hellman.
Vaughan reached home on an overthrow, and Hellman stole home.
In the bottom of the second, Iowa struck back, scoring three times thanks to back-to-back-to-back walks to open the inning.
In that contest, NOSA managed just four hits — one each by Nelson, Core, Kelly Olthof and Poole.
Nelson, Paggeot, Vaughan and Hellman scored runs for NOYSA.
Vaughan started the game and pitched two innings, allowing one hit, five walks and three earned runs. She struck out five.
Nelson entered the game in the third and shut down Iowa, allowing just a single hit and a walk while striking out four.
Nelson said it was difficult for his squad to split up and head home after the tournament.
“We just reminded the girls that this is an experience they’re going to want to remember for a long time, how good it feels to come this far,” Nelson said. “If anything, it shows that if you work that hard for something, good things happen.”
Another thing Nelson shared with his team — when the NOYSA All-Stars reached the state tournament, there were approximately 700 teams left fighting for a chance to make it to the World Series.
“When the regionals started, there were 50 teams left. Today, there were just 10 teams in the whole country, which was something to be proud of.”