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Cedar Mill secures state crown


Saw Blades crush Bend in championship game

First, they slayed Goliath.

Then, after mowing the mighty Murrayhill all-star squad in the District Four tournament two weeks ago at Alpenrose Stadium, the Cedar Mill Little League 10/11-year-old all-stars took on the entire state and came away triumphant.

The Saw Blades seared through the state tournament championship game against Bend, crushing their title foe, 14-2 in four innings to bring home the hardware. It was the first state championship in the 25-year history of Cedar Mill Little League. by: TIMES PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Cedar Mills Hayden Skiba stomps on home plate after hitting a home run in the Special District Four tournament.

“We're thrilled to say the least,” said head coach Kevin Meader. “This team played with a lot of confidence, and really I had a full tool box when I set lineups. We had pitching, defense, speed, power. We really had everything we needed, and once they started having success at districts, their confidence just kept growing and building.”

A confident Bend team had breezed through its half of the bracket and took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning of the championship game before Cedar Mill unleashed an offensive display that simply overwhelmed the Bend North squad. In the bottom of the second inning, Cedar Mill got hits from first baseman Danny Hext and centerfielder Kaito Wilson as well as home runs from catcher Gavin Meader, shortstop Connor Kollas and pitcher Mick Abel — all with two outs — to take a 6-2 lead. Bend got nothing going in the third inning, and then Cedar Mill continued the barrage in the bottom of the third inning as left fielder Hayden Skiba led off the inning with a home run.

Then, after base hits from Loggan Davis, James Porter, Wilson, Meader and a double by rightfielder Will Harrington, Cedar Mill pushed the score to 14-2 after a second hit in the inning by James Porter. Abel shut down Bend in the fourth inning for the “mercy rule” shortened victory and a state championship.

District Four destined for greatness

Murrayhill was on top of the Oregon Little League world for so long that it seemed nothing was going to stop them from rolling back to the state title. They'd been Cedar Mill's archenemy for years, either knocking CM out of the semi-finals or preventing them from getting out of pool play.

But this summer, Cedar Mill was more than up for the challenge, getting over a road bump that probably had Little League programs around the state dancing with glee. Both teams battled strong in the district final, but Cedar Mill was the squad who made the key plays in pivotal moments in the 7-5 District Four championship game win. Kollas and Abel both hit home runs in the hotly contested match between cross-town rivals.by: TIMES PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Cedar Mills Mick Abel sprints across home plate for a score in the Special District Four tournament.

Meader was hesitant to predict a changing of the guard in the area but, the king, at least for one season, was knocked from his throne.

“For a team like us to unseat a perennial powerhouse in Murrayhill, really was the booster for us,” said Meader. “Then, at the state tournament, we just had so much momentum that there was really nothing that was going to stop us.”

In an epic semifinal game that saw three lightening delays, an extra inning of baseball and a walk-off home run, Cedar Mill prevailed 7-5 over a scrappy Wilshire/Riverside team. Cedar Mill pitcher Ethan Wilson had a dominant performance for the “Saw Blades,” clobbering three home runs in the game including a walk-off two-run shot in the bottom of the seventh inning. Left fielder Hayden Skiba and Meader each hit their second home run of the tournament, and Davis went two for three with a double.

Kollas, Cedar Mill's leadoff guy and star shortstop, led the squad with eight hits during state and was a true catalyst both offensively and defensively. Catcher Gavin Meader was behind the dish the entire tournament and walloped three home runs amongst his seven hits. Able and Ethan Wilson were the horses on the hill for Cedar Mill, providing potent pitching and pop at the plate. Wilson joined the hit parade with four homers of his own during state, including one in the semi-final contest against Wilshire.

Cedar Mill played five games in five days in 90-degree-plus heat — and used seven pitchers to do it. On offense, the Cedar Mill team collected 55 hits including an impressive 14 home runs by six different players. Brant Campanian, Will Harrington and Roberto Luna each contributed in big ways during the state tournament pool play.

Several years ago, Cedar Mill changed up its system when Meader was the league's president. One of the first things Meader did was expand its majors' program to include the elite 10-year-old players instead of being exclusive to the 11- and 12-year-olds. In order to keep the passion going for the kids, Meader decided it was time to let the better younger players compete as soon as possible. Three teams turned into seven major teams, and Meader said the benefits have been endless.by: TIMES PHOTO: DAN BROOD - Cedar Mill pitcher Ethan Wilson fires a pitch in the Special District Four tournament against Tigard.

“The kids have more fun, they sign up for fall ball, and we really had a groundswell of participation,” said Meader. “I'm very happy with that decision, and it's just really been a building up of great stuff. The passion has just grown, the Cedar Mill community's been terrific. It's going in the right direction, so I hope it's yet another stepping stone to even further successes.”

Cedar Mill also made their programs less exclusive and welcomed in more talented players. Before the season commenced, Meader and the Cedar Mill board divided the best players equally amongst the seven squad instead of stacking a team or two with all the studs.

“It made it so every kid felt like they could win when they came to the ball park,” said Meader. “I think that overall attitude change is what's driving the success of Cedar Mill.”

Stepping stone

Little League is where college players like Southridge's Reza Aleaziz, Jacob Zanon and Jesuit's Nick Choruby and Matt Decker first got their start in the game. It's so instrumental in a young player's life, the stepping stone to middle school Babe Ruth and eventually the high school level. It's a responsibility Meader takes seriously as Cedar Mill's head coach. Cedar Mill has stayed away from the old school, tough-love style of coaching rhetoric in favor of encouraging the kids to enjoy the game and relish the chance to succeed.

“My mantra has always been 'make the game as fun as possible',” said Meader. “Our goal is to have them sign up again, and if they come back next spring, then we've done our job. Baseball, if you don't make it fun, will just weed kids out. It's a very difficult sport to play, and it's a sport of failure. If the managers are berating the kids and beating them down, they'll just quit and play something else because it's too hard.”

At the 10/11-year-old level there is no regional play, so the state champs are done for this season. Next year however, the team plans to stick together for the 11/12-year-old unit and take on all comers at Alpenrose Stadium. Both the District Four and state tournament will be at Alpenrose in 2014, sweetening the pot for Kollas and company to make a return run.

“I predict most of these kids will be back in the mix next year, so who knows, we might have another magic run next season,” said Meader.