Nunaka Valley reaches World Series finale

Doyle Woody
Manager Richard Hill and the Nunaka Valley girls softball team celebrate Friday's 9-2 victory over host Kirkland, Wash., in the semifinals of the Little League Junior Softball World Series. Nunaka Valley plays Victoria, British Columbia, in today's championship game.

This time, the Nunaka Valley girls didn't falter with a five-run lead.

Instead, they fattened their advantage.

And now they will play for a world championship Saturday.

One day after its five-run lead evaporated and led to its only pool-play loss at the Little League Junior Softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash., Nunaka Valley beat Kirkland 9-2 in a Friday semifinal to advance to the title game.

Nunaka Valley (4-1 in the tournament) will play Victoria, British Columbia (3-1) in the championship game at 1 p.m. ADT.

Victoria advanced with a 5-2 semifinal win over Maunabo, Puerto Rico, which Friday rallied from a 5-0 deficit to beat Nunaka Valley, 9-5.

The tournament website reports Saturday's championship game will be broadcast on ESPN2 (Cable Channel 35).

"Alaska's going prime time,'' said Nunaka manager Richard Hill.

The Alaskans never trailed Friday, getting superb pitching from starter Lauren Syrup and reliever Hannah Peterson.

"They were fantastic,'' said Nunaka leadoff power hitter Taria Page.

The Alaskans also played flawless defense that included two double-plays, and they pounded out 11 hits.

The only threat to the Alaskans came in the top of the sixth inning, when they led 5-0. Kirkland plated two runs and had the bases loaded with one out when Katie Adams hit a ground ball to Nunaka second baseman Sierra Rosenzweig. Rosenzweig tagged Kirkland's Tatum Kawabata running between first and second bases, and threw to first baseman Morgan Hill to complete the inning-ending double-play before a partisan Kirkland crowd.

"That was amazing,'' Morgan Hill said. "We needed to get out of that inning. The crowd was going wild, it was 5-2 and they had the bases loaded. Two seconds later, the inning was over.''

Rosenzweig then opened the bottom of the sixth with a single and scored on Peterson's double. Leilani Blair singled home Peterson, Hill doubled for the second time in the game to score Blair and Nanea Tali delivered an RBI single to boost Alaska's lead to 9-2.

Peterson retired the side in order in the top of the seventh to send Nunaka to its first world championship game.

This season marks the third time in four years a girls softball team from Nunaka Valley has advanced to a Little League World Series. This is also the second straight year the league has advanced to the Junior World Series for 12-to-14-year-olds -- Nunaka finished fifth last year

Peterson allowed four hits and two runs, and struck out two, in the final three innings. Syrup, who has started all five games in the tournament, permitted just one hit in four scoreless innings.

Page, Blair, Hill and Peterson each scored two runs, and Rosenzweig scored one.

Hill and Jacynne Augafa, who furnished a two-run double in Nunaka's four-run fifth inning, each drove in two runs. Also contributing an RBI each were Peterson, Blair, Felila Manu and Tali.

Nunaka took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Page tripled with one out and scored on a passed ball. Page also drew two walks. She is hitting .625 in the tournament with a tournament-leading 10 runs and tournament-leading 10 RBIs. Her four home runs in the nine-team tournament matches the number hit by all other players.

Morgan Hill said she and her teammates were discouraged by Thursday's loss, but resolved to rebound.

"We were all really, really upset,' she said. "After the game, we were frustrated. (Thursday) night, we had a team meeting and said, 'We're fine. We're in the semis and we earned our way there.' ''

Morgan Hill said the team got a good night's sleep, rested, did a little shopping to relax and showed up for the semifinal focused.

"You could tell everyone was ready -- you could see it on our faces," she said.

Five of the girls on this Nunaka team -- Page, Hill, Syrup, Peterson and Augafa -- have been on all three teams that have been to three World Series. The only thing they lack is a world championship.

"I'm pumped, I'm ready to go,'' Morgan Hill said. "Like my friend Taria Page says, 'Unfinished business, and the third time will be a charm.' "

Anchorage Daily News