East wins Series over local host

The superstitious often claim that “the third time is the charm,” and on Aug. 12 the Milton, Pa., Senior Softball team (USA East) proved them right by defeating the hosting District III Nanticoke Little League team 3-2 in a comeback victory during the Senior League Little League World Series Championship in Roxana.

Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT: USA East starting pitcher Nicole Smith led the tournament in wins (4-0), ERA (0.56) and strikeouts (33).Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT
USA East starting pitcher Nicole Smith led the tournament in wins (4-0), ERA (0.56) and strikeouts (33).

Milton reached the Junior League Softball World Series in 2004 and 2005 but failed to reach the championship game. Instead, they finished third both years. Their team was intact for possibly the last year, because despite having only two 16-years-olds, a majority of the 2006 World Series team have indicated that they may not play Little League next year. So now, with a wealth of big-game experience, Milton knew they had a golden opportunity.

“I’m speechless,” Milton manager Mike Balliet said. “And what makes it even sweeter is that this is probably our last year together. A number of the girls are on the fence as to whether they’ll play Little League next year.”

“They were definitely the greatest show on dirt,” he said, “and a great dynasty.”

District III owned a 2-0 third-inning lead on a RBI standup double by starting pitcher Kelsey Riggleman and a RBI infield single by catcher Danielle Haldeman but would have very little time to celebrate.

Milton right-fielder Amy Neitz — who delivered a two-out, game-tying RBI single in the bottom of the seventh in a 3-2 semi-final win over USA Southwest (San Antonio, Texas) — drew a leadoff walk, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt down the first-base line by second baseman Melissa Balliet.

District III first baseman Erin Timlin snagged the ground ball for the force out at first but, in an attempt to turn two outs, made a bad throw to third, which scored Neitz and cut their lead to 2-1.

District III still had the lead but was on the ropes.

Milton catcher Jordan Fredrick changed the game on one swing, launching a first-pitch Riggleman fastball deep over the centerfield wall to tie the game.

“There was no pressure on me individually,” Fredrick explained. “Most of her (Riggleman’s) pitches were strikes and the one she threw me was right down the middle.”

Throughout the tournament, Riggleman served with Heather Draper as part of District III’s one-two punch from the mound.

Though Draper pitched a complete-game, nine strikeout performance in a 2-0 semi-final win over USA Central (South Bend, Ind.) to get to the World Series Championship, it was Riggleman and her infamous rise ball that made her stood out as one of the tournament’s top pitchers.

She held a 1.00 ERA (fourth), and allowed only seven hits and two walks in two starts.

Milton starting pitcher Nicole Smith took the cake, though, not only in the Championship game but throughout the tournament.

She led the tournament in wins (4-0), ERA (0.56), strikeouts (33) gave up only two earned runs (both to District III), allowed nine hits (tournament-low with three or more starts) and tossed a staggering 74 percent of her 308 total pitches for strikes (fourth best in tournament) while throwing gas the whole game — each game.

“She definitely had an arsenal to work with,” District III manager Mike Riggleman said.

Smith’s dominance on the mound translated to success in the batter’s box.

Despite having a game-tying RBI standup triple negated on a call by the third-base umpire, Smith rallied against District III to actually get the game-winning hit.

Her triple against USA Southwest laced the left-field line, tossing up chalk in its wake, but the third-base umpire called it foul after a lengthy discussion amongst the officials. Smith would not leave the call in the umpire’s hands again.

Following a leadoff single by left fielder Brittany Hoffman and being moved over on an Alysha Hoover sac-bunt, Smith smacked a RBI single up the middle in the top of the seventh for the would-be game winner.

Smith relied on her defense for the next two outs before lulling Timlin to sleep on a three-pitch called strike out.

Nanticoke’s second-place World Series finish marked District III’s best finish since the games came to Roxana Little League three years ago. The previous two years, Laurel had finished fifth and fourth, respectively.