champs

Green Country All-Stars pose with the Southwest Regional championship banner after a 7-5 win on Thursday. They'll advance to the Little League World Series in North Carolina next weekend. Coached by Hayleigh Galvan, players are Taylan Starr, Mileigh Needham, Alexis Kierstead, Julianna Hutchens, Lilly Beverage, Aubree Davis, Zoie Griffin, Cambri Casey, Kandace Burnett, Riley Dotson, Shianne Dill,  Ailanee Hicks and Aleigh Tucker.

Muskogee County-based Green Country All-Stars had already earned a ticket as the first Oklahoma team in the Little League Softball World Series.

On Thursday, the Oklahoma state champions punched it the right way, fighting off a rally by West Robinson Little League representing Texas West to capture the Southwest Regional championship, 8-5 in eight innings in Waco, Texas.

Alianee Hicks’ two-run single with no outs in the eighth broke a 5-all tie, then Riley Dotson’s sacrifice fly added an insurance run. Juliana Hutchens drew a leadoff walk and Kandace Burnett singled to set the plate for Hicks.

In the bottom of the eighth, left fielder Lilly Beverage ended it with one out, snagging a fly ball and throwing to Hutchens at third to get the baserunner on the tag-up.

“Lily is always looking for the next play. When she made the play, she didn’t stop and luckily Juli got back to the bag and it was a perfect throw,” said Green Country coach Hayleigh Galvan, a former Sequoyah High standout who played at Oklahoma State before finishing her college career recently at Fresno State.

“I don’t think she realized what happened until everyone was on top of her.”

With this year’s Little League World Series events being held for U.S. teams only due to the pandemic, the top two teams from each region were guaranteed to advance. Green Country did that with a 7-5 victory in the winner’s bracket final against this same Texas squad on Wednesday.

And just as it did Wednesday, Oklahoma struck early, and held on, in Thursday’s title game.

“We were resilient and tough and didn’t flinch against a team that had great pitching and great hitters.” said Galvan, on a bus with a group of sleeping players returning home. “I don’t believe that we won’t see them at some point next week.”

Alexis Kierstead drew a leadoff walk, Taylan Starr and Hutchens had consecutive singles, then Burnett singled in Kierstead and Lilly Beverage slapped a two-run single, making it 3-0. Aleigh Tucker’s single made it 4-0.

The Texas squad posted three runs off five hits in the third. Burnett’s sacrifice fly in the fourth made it 5-3. Texas answered again with a run in the bottom of the frame, then tied it on its final at-bat in regulation play in the sixth before back-to-back flyouts to center fielder Shianne Dill with two runners on forced extra innings.

Burnett led the way with four hits in five at-bats. She along with Hicks and Beverage had two RBIs each. Starr was 3-for-5 and Hutchens 2-for-3.

Zoie Griffin started in the circle and gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings. Dotson threw the final four innings, allowing two runs, one earned, on four hits.

Green Country was 3-0 in the six-team regional, featuring teams from Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, Colorado and two from Texas. Four of the players — Beverage, Hutchens, Needham and Aubree Davis — were playing up an age level on the team that went 3-2 and finished third in 2019.

There was no regional last year due to the pandemic.

The LLWS will be played in Greenville, N.C. Already, Green Country is paired to begin play against New Jersey at noon Wednesday, Aug. 11.

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