One of the privileges afforded to Washington State’s District 9 for hosting the Junior League World Girl’s Series Softball Championship was the opportunity to place their own District 9 Championship All-Star team in the series tournament. As luck would have it Kirkland’s local All-Star Team won the District 9 Championship and got to host the world in their own backyard! The District 9 host team is made up of Kirkland National and American League Junior All-Stars. Kirkland’s Everest Field, has a great lineage of hosting Little League tournaments beginning in the 1960s. It is part of the Williamsport Family of World Championship host fields and has now housed the Junior League World Softball Series for 15 years in row. The berth given to the District 9 champions is usually a token gesture of etiquette. It is expected the host team won’t last beyond their opening game. The visiting championship teams from various regions of the world generously give their host one last breath of life in league play. Logic leads them to reason their host won’t last long into the real tournament competition. Anyway, that’s how logic goes. The 2013 World League Junior Girls Softball Championship, didn’t go that way! In fact, the District 9 Champs didn’t have that same expectation at all. They won their first game against Canada by 26 runs. They didn’t bow out against Asia Pacific and Ohio either. The only time during tournament playoff that Kirkland did the expected thing was in losing to the formidable Southeast Champions. That team filled Florida All-Stars was led by a remarkable pitcher, Dana Rowley. Even after their loss, Kirkland barely skipped a beat before coming back two days later to win against Italy 10-0. There were several team member stand-outs, two of them, Hannah Walker, short stop/catcher and Tori Bivens, pitcher, have played Little League together since the age of 9. They have been on the All-Star select team nearly every one of those years. In addition, both girls were invited by University of Washington coaches, Heather Tarr and J.T. d’amico to play on their Seattle select tournament team this year. Leading into the Junior League World Series competition Walker and Bivens had just finished traveling across the country with the Seattle team. Other consistently strong players during the tournament included Kirkland’s third baseman, Kristina Warford and pitcher, Lisa Nelson. All the District 9 champion girls played impressively, but the real magic of the team was found in the great hearts of it’s athletes and coaches; Nolan Radke, Robert Warford and Steve Bivens. The Kirkland girl’s ended all their games with “thank you” waves to their fans. They also jumped arm in arm into after game photos with their visiting rivals often clowning together even with foreign language barriers. All week, the host team played with big smiles in front of family and friends, but the brightest smile was found on the face of Hannah Walker. Her large extended multi-generational family turned out strong in support of Hannah and her mother, Kristi Walker. Kristi, who Hannah credits with her lineage of tough endurance, was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy just a couple weeks before the world series competition. Hoping to be finished and recovered from the mastectomy in time to cheer for her daughter, Kristi faced a major disappointment and setback when cancer was discovered in her lymph nodes three days before the series began. She did her best to schedule her chemo treatment around Hannah’s games. Kristi, donning a light blue team jersey with Hannah’s #10 on the back was in the stands surrounded by a crowd of family for every game. Hannah’s dad, Billy Walker watched from the hill behind centerfield with his sister’s family. Kristi with a laugh says, “That’s where Billy needs to be. We can’t let him closer because emotionally he doesn’t remain calm and collected.” Billy’s sister, Cindy Sloan, agrees. She says she sits with Billy to make sure he stays securely in place! Needing to win their rematch game against Asia Pacific representing from the Philippines, the Kirkland “Cinderella” team felt good about their ballroom chances with only this one game standing between them and Saturday’s World Championship game. Kirkland’s confidence was based in the fact they had already won against Asia Pacific in earlier competition playoff. Their optimism was upheld as they came out the victor once again 12-3 on Friday night and advanced with jubulence into the World Championship game. Kirkland knew they were underdogs going into Saturday’s game against the undefeated Southeast team. That region of the country had produced 5 separate past Junior League Softball World Series champions. This year’s Southeast team quickly burst ahead 9-0 lead in the fourth inning and Kirkland’s chances to play out all seven at-bats seemed slim, however hometown fans kept cheering. Relatives and friends of the Kirkland All-Stars bearing pep posters were joined by several tournament players from other teams who led cheers to keep the host girls uplifted. In the last three innings of the game Kirkland held on with all their might. They allowed Southeast only one more run. In addition, Kirkland avoided the shut-out when Natalie Vetto, who got on base by hustling to first on a dropped third strike by the catcher scored off of Brynn Radtke right field single! The final score of the championship game was 10-1, Southeast. Heaven’s magic rained down on the Cinderella Kirkland Team. They made sports history on August 17, 2013 by stepping onto the field at Everest Ball Park to play in the final game of the Junior League Softball World Series and becoming the first host team to do so in over a decade. They also became one of the two best teams in the world. Kirkland beat the odds. They also gave Kristi Walker a boost of that same inspiration. Her presence no doubt inspired Hannah to play with all her might and endurance. Mother and daughter are both feeling the love, as the team, coaches and parents have rallied their hearts around them. Hannah is very confident her mom, will be cheering her on for many years to come, maybe one day at her dream school, the University of Washington.
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