Following a disappointing 6-1 loss to USA East during the opening round of the Senior League World Series, Delaware District III manager Mike Riggleman went over every pitch of every play with his players — not to scold them or rake them over the coals but rather to use the game as a teaching tool.
“There was a lot of anxiety and they were very nervous,” Riggleman said of team’s opening-round jitters. “So we showed them the tape the day after to point out what worked and what didn’t, and I think it worked very well. The next game we had quite a few good swings and our pitch selection was much better. And a couple kids hit the ball pretty well and it relaxed the team.”
The result was a complete 180-degree turnaround.
District III went from getting only four hits, and committing two errors and countless mental mistakes, to playing flawless softball against the representing World Series champion USA South (Morristown, Tenn.) in a 13-0 five-inning win. They tallied nine hits, five of which were extra base hits (two doubles and three triples), committed no errors and were in the game 100 percent, mentally.
USA South pitcher India Ellison blew past District III’s top three batters on two swinging strikeouts as part of a three-up, three-down first inning. But from there they battled on every pitch of every count, no matter how many outs were listed on the scoreboard.
With two outs and runners on the corners in the second inning, District III first baseman Erin Timlin fouled off a fastball straight back and took a called strike on a 1-2 count before slapping a two-RBI infield single to start a seven-run, two-out rally.
Starting pitcher Kelsey Riggleman and catcher Danielle Haldeman both added RBI shots to leftfield — on a standup double and a triple, respectively — while scoring three more runs on two errors and a wild pitch.
“They can throw and hit, and some can do it better than some of the boys. But it comes down to playing with their heads in the game,” District III assistant coach Mark Fisher said.
“I think they were a little embarrassed with they way they played the night before and they wanted to prove to everyone that they could play,” Fisher added.
Kelsey Riggleman whipped through three innings of work in three-up, three-down fashion — including starting a 1-6-3 double play to eliminate a scoring threat in the bottom of the second inning — before USA South second baseman Brittany Dixon broke up her no-hitter in the fourth.
Catcher Michelle Grier followed up Dixon’s single with one of her own. But, from there, Kelsey Riggleman put the clamps down — despite having to wait until the next day to finish the game due to a severe lightning storm.
Kelsey Riggleman finished the game, giving up only two hits and walking no one. She struck out seven and thwarted USA South’s only scoring opportunity in the fourth inning by striking out three straight batters.
“Kelsey was very sharp,” Fisher said. “Her fastball was working real well.”
District III leftfielder Heather Draper added a bases-clearing, standup double. Pinch-hitter Alexis Short chipped in with a RBI triple and center fielder Kari Bergh plated Kelsey Riggleman home on a sacrifice fly to center field for some insurance runs in the fourth and fifth innings, on their way to a 13-0 win.
Like District III’s first game, USA South’s first game was marred by mental mistakes and errors, which led to the seven-run inning. But they would rebound to play much better the following day, only to lose again to USA East 2-0 over seven innings.
“The South is a heck of a ball team. But it comes down to who comes ready to play,” Fisher said. “You can’t expect to make errors against the big dogs and win at this level. And Mike (Riggleman) does a great job emphasizing that.”
If District III won its next game against Canada (a game played after Coastal Point’s Aug. 9 deadline), then it would advance to semi-final Game 3 against the first-place team in Pool B, at 8 p.m. on Ebbets Field.
As the Point went to press Wednesday night, USA Central (South Bend, Ind.) led Pool B at 3-0 and looked to be the front-runner to take first place within that pool. But the Indiana team had one game remaining against the 2-0 Latin American (Willemstad, Curacao) team. Latin America had two games remaining, including the one against USA Central and another against a 1-1 USA Southwest team.
The USA Southwest lost their only game in a 2-1 extra innings (8) game to USA Central. A pair of USA Southwest wins over Latin America and EMEA, together with a Latin American win over Central, could create a free-for-all for the top slot in this year’s series.
Either way, District III is only concentrating on what they have to do next, and that’s to go out and beat Canada on Aug. 10.
“Right now, we’re in a good position because we control our own destiny,” Riggleman said.
“We just have to go out and do what we have to do,” Fisher added.