By miles vance
pamplin media group
So, so close.
The Beaverton Ringor team did everything but walk away with the national title at the recently completed AAU Baseball 19U World Series.
After opening the tournament with two wins in three games to reach the Series quarterfinals, Ringor knocked out two straight opponents to earn a berth in the Series finale but fell short there, dropping a 6-4 decision to the Vacaville Vikings last Thursday at Travis Credit Union Park in Vacaville, Calif.
'The tournament was a great event and I am so proud of the way our players handled the situation,' said Ringor manager Len Clarke. 'Winning a silver medal was a terrific accomplishment.'
While short of a Series championship, Ringor's success provided a fitting cap to Clarke's long career coaching amateur baseball, most of that at the Little League and Babe Ruth level.
'Our players will have a memory of a tournament we should have won if it had not been for a field that was, unfortunately, big enough to hold us,' Clarke said. 'But this team was a pleasure to coach and they will all be heading off to college teams in the fall with a positive memory of a summer spent with good competition and new friends that will have the World Series experience in common for life.'
Proud as they were of their second-place finish, Ringor's players couldn't help but wonder what might have been after their title-game loss. Ringor out-hit Vacaville 9-6 in the game, stranded 10 runners on base and saw four of its long balls caught just short of Travis Park's 400-foot fences.
'The most frustrating issue was that we hit long balls that did not find the gaps and came close to four (home runs) that missed by only a few feet,' said Clarke.
Vacaville also benefited from the strong pitching performance of Ryan Bartlett, who used his changeup and fastball to keep Ringor off-balance and notch a complete-game victory.
'They went ahead on hits that found open spots while we hit shots right at their defense,' said Clarke. 'Our balls simply did not find holes.'
Ringor pitchers Eric Renander, Kyle Hefley, Trey Watt and Jordan Post were strong, too, combining to pitch a six-hitter, but Vacaville simply made better use of its chances. The Vikings broke on top with two runs in the second inning, getting an RBI double from Ryan Lipkin and a run-scoring triple from Chris Curtis. Vacaville then boosted their edge to 4-0 on a two-run single by John Downer.
Ringor answered with one run in the fourth, but Vacaville added two more in the sixth to make it 6-1 before Ringor got its final three runs late in the game. Zach Mandelblatt and Jake Rasmussen led Ringor with two hits each.
Ringor got an early shock in its semifinal matchup against LA All Sports last Wednesday, seeing the speedy California team use its aggressive baserunning ('They stole bases with ease and advanced on base hits like there was no opposition,' Clarke said.) to grab a 3-1 lead after the first inning.
But Ringor rallied to tie the game in the third, moved in front in the fourth, then took control with a six-run fifth and a four-run sixth.
'After the first inning, our defense was awesome,' Clarke said. 'We made excellent plays with no errors and kept them off the bases the rest of the game.'
Steve Hernandez threw six innings, striking out four while allowing four hits and three walks. The offense was led by Colin Clark's 4-for-4 day - he also scored three times and contributed four RBIs. Mandelblatt, Post, Rasmussen, Tony Stutevoss and Chris Oki added two hits apiece to send the team to the championship game.
Pitcher Ryan Koffel stepped up big time when his team needed him in the tournament quarterfinals last Tuesday, throwing a complete game gem that included six strikeouts and just four hits.
Offensively, Evan Dunn went 2-for-2, scored one run and knocked in another.
Renander had two hits and scored once, while Post had two RBIs on sacrifice flies.
Although the tournament ended well for Ringor, the team had a bit of a rocky start.
Ringor lost its Series opener last Monday but rallied to win later Monday afternoon and again on Tuesday - both those wins coming in convincing fashion - to reach the tournament semifinals.
Ringor opened its World Series with a resounding thud in the superheated atmosphere at Travis Credit Union Park, dropping a 4-0 decision to the Orange County Indians - a game that started with on-field temperatures measured at 108 degrees.
'The heat was just overwhelming and we didn't adjust to it very well,' said Clarke. 'And we just didn't produce offensively in Game 1.'
Ringor did get a six-hitter from pitchers Watt and Hefley, but Orange County answered with a one-hitter by San Jose State hurler Sam Childress. The Indians scored three runs in the first inning to grab control of the ballgame.
Monday's second game brought greater temperatures - 112 degrees at game time - but also greater success for Ringor, as the team broke open the game with a 12-run third inning highlighted by Post's heroics at the plate. The Southridge High grad ripped a grand slam and later added an RBI single in the watershed third, en route to a 3-for-3, six-RBI performance.
'By then we were ready for the heat,' said Clarke. 'We had towels around our necks and that helped a little bit, but it was just like there was no air to breathe.'
Renander went 3-for-3 and scored three times for Ringor, while Mandelblatt was 2-for-2. Stutevoss and Brandon Sales each went 2-for-3 with two runs apiece. Koffel allowed six hits and five runs, but only two of those hits and one run came after a shaky first.
Ringor rolled again on Tuesday, getting a three-hitter from pitchers Jack Brallier and John Anderson in a 10-2 victory over the Sonoma County Vikings.
'(Brallier) did a nice job,' said Clarke. 'He probably had his best outing for us today.'
Mandelblatt had another big day with the bat, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored, while Dunn and Oki both went 2-for-3, Dunn collecting three RBIs in the win.
As great as all that way, Clarke was left with as much pride in his team's off-field performance as its excellent efforts on it.
'We stayed at a local motel who proclaimed us the best team ever to stay at the facility,' Clarke added. 'The Oregon team representatives made us all proud to be associated with the team. Our conduct on and off the field was outstanding.
'Only a deep fence stopped us from winning the gold.'