PORTLAND - Defense has carried the Pendleton 11-12-year-old all-star squad to the Little League Softball World Series, but it was defensive mistakes that proved costly in the team's opener.
Pendleton (West) spoiled a 2-1 lead entering the final inning of play Thursday by committing three errors in the top of the sixth inning and the South squad of Virginia took advantage for a 4-2 victory to open World Series pool-play at Alpenrose Field.
"If this was a championship game, I'd be going, 'what if,' but we just have to put this game behind us," said Pendleton manager Debbie Alger.
"We count on our defense the most, but the girls are 11 and 12 and it happens."
Pendleton faces Asia Pacific at 5 p.m. today for the second of four pool-play games, while the South team has a bye.
"We feel very fortunate to come away with a win," said South manager Jamie Loving. "These were two even teams going at it, and fortunately for us we were able to come out on top."
After posting two runs in the first inning off Lauren Sanata, Pendleton struggled at the plate, striking out seven times over the final five innings of play.
"We just didn't get our timing down," Alger said. "I don't think their pitcher was overpowering, but we just didn't hit well."
Sanata retired the final 17 of the 21 batters she faced after Pendleton scored its final run of the game.
"Lauren normally pitches our tougher games and stayed poised," Loving said. "She fielded her position well and did a good job of settling down after that first inning."
Alex Hillmick worked the pitching circle for Pendelton, scattering six hits, while striking out four batters.
"Alex pitched a good game and had we made a couple more plays, she would have had the win," Alger said.
"We can't really complain, because we've made the plays to get here."
Hillmick cruised through the first three innings, but hit Sanata, who later scored off an RBI single by Lauren McColgan in the fourth inning.
"She didn't give us many free passes and she was sneaky fast," Loving said of Hillmick.
"Our hitters hung in there and hit the ball, but Pendleton made several nice plays."
Pendleton took advantage of two South errors in the first inning as both Logan Hagey and Emily Ager reached base and later scored off RBI singles by Hillmick and Presley Pahl, but Pendleton left the bases loaded with only one out.
"We felt pretty lucky to only give up two runs in the first inning," Loving said. "I think the girls were a little nervous."
Utilizing the bunt, Hagey and Rachel Treloar reached first in the fourth inning, but were left stranded at second and third.
"They had some troubles with the bunt and we kept going to it, but we left a few runners on that we should have scored," Alger said.
The South's McColgan, Kukana Ho'opi' and Adrianne Engel all scored in the sixth inning off three consecutive throwing errors by Pendleton.
Michelle Tilson was a tough out for Hillmick, ripping a single and a double, but had help from two outstanding catches by Nika Kash Kash and Leini Alger to get Tilson in the fifth and sixth innings respectively.
"We're disappointed with a loss, but we have to get back at it and try and finish 3-1 to get into the semifinals," Alger said.
In other action Thursday, the East took care of Latin America 7-0 and Asia Pacific handed Europe a 13-0 loss.