Softball success and Snohomish County have become synonymous with each other in the state of Washington over the years, with many local high schools achieving deep postseason runs and producing high-level NCAA Division I talents.
The growth of those talented players and teams starts well before high school, and Mill Creek Little League has been at the forefront of local youth-softball success.
After a dominant 5-0 run through the Washington State little league tournament — outscoring opponents 52-3 along the way — Mill Creek’s 11 and 12-year-olds (majors division team) are set to represent the Evergreen State for third time in the past four years in San Bernardino, California, at the West Regional Tournament.
“I think they’ve worked really hard,” head coach Larri Werner said. “It’s been a process for four years. These girls took second in state when they were 9- and 10-year-olds, so they’ve been working really hard outside of Little League on their own doing batting lessons and pitching lessons and all those kinds of things. It’s not an easy process. For them it takes a lot of hard work to get to this point.”
Qualifying for the regional tournament was a redeeming feat for many of the team’s players, who fell only one win shy of a state title and regional berth two years ago playing for Mill Creek’s minors team.
“That was a really hard feeling,” catcher Leneyah Mitchell said of taking second while on the minors team. “It felt really good to get that back and actually win and get first.”
Players on the team echoed the sentiment of relishing the opportunity to put their skills to the test against top teams from the West Coast.
“I’m looking forward to the competition and just having fun and playing softball and just enjoying the time down there, especially because this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” pitcher Yanina Sherwood said. “This is my last year playing (in majors), so I think I’m just going to take as much as I can from it and learn from it.”
Sherwood also highlighted that this year’s team has a second shot at redemption when they get to the regional tournament. This time for the majors team that fell just short of the Little League World Series in heartbreaking fashion during the regional championship game two years ago, losing on a walkoff single in extra innings.
That 2017 team was even more dominant in its run to regionals through the Washington State tournament, posting a 64-3 run differential while going 4-0.
Does Werner, who was an assistant with that squad and the 2016 team that qualified for regionals, see similarities between the Mill Creek’s recent state champions?
“There’s differences in each one of those teams, but they’re a lot a like,” Werner said. “All three of them were good hitting teams and they all had a really good No. 1 pitcher, so I think this year (we have) the same thing. We’ve got a really good pitcher this year and hopefully that will carry us through.”
And what would a trip to the Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon, mean to the girls on the team?
“That would be a dream come true, definitely,” Sherwood said.
Mill Creek received a bye in the West Region’s first round and starts its journey at noon Sunday against the winner of Saturday’s matchup between Idaho and Southern California. The tournament is a double-elimination format until the semifinals. After reaching the semifinals, teams will be eliminated after a single loss. Sunday’s winners receive a bye on Monday.
Even though the ultimate goal is a berth to the Little League World Series, the team won’t leave empty-handed regardless of the final result.
“I think that it will be be such a great trip and adventure for all of us,” Mitchell said. “Even if we don’t do well, I think it will still be amazing memories and stuff like that because we’ve all grown up together.”
Meet the team
This year’s Mill Creek majors division roster: Addison Bale, Kyla Conant, Elena Eigner, Cael Hare, Kiana Holden, Leneyah Mitchell, Aubree Orr, Gabrielle Raysbrook, Yanina Sherwood, Allie Thomsen, Emery Tulio, Kendal Westman and Reese Westman.