The 'Mad Dawgs' fight their way to a return trip to the 2006 World Series
PORTLAND - Cedar Mill found itself in unfamiliar territory.
After cruising into the championship of the District 4 Majors Little League softball tournament, the Mad Dawgs trailed Lake Oswego in the third inning of Friday's title game.
Like a champion, Cedar Mill didn't bend. They didn't buckle. And they certainly didn't break, recovering for a 6-3 victory to earn a return trip to the Little League World Series.
'It felt good that we rallied and won,' Cedar Mill pitcher Jessie Moore said. 'Once we were down, we really wanted to come back and win.'
The Mad Dawgs fell apart with four errors in the top of the third inning, resulting in three Lake Oswego runs and a 3-1 deficit. With seven players returning from last year's World Series team, Cedar Mill showed its experience by immediately responding with a run in the bottom of the inning.
After Moore retired the first three batters of the fourth inning, the Mad Dawgs took the lead for good with a huge four-run burst with two outs that put them over the top.
'We were marching through things when we stumbled and hit a wall,' Cedar Mill manager Bob Ryder said. 'That might be a good thing. It was nice to see the girls not hang their heads. The girls weren't willing to go down without a battle.'
Dakota Stewart started the rally with a one-out pop fly that dropped in shallow center for a single. A groundout moved her to second. Kim Ryder's hard grounder went off the third baseman's glove and Stewart slid in ahead of the tag at third as Ryder motored to second.
Katie Mardesich followed with a high fly that was misjudged by the center fielder and went over her head for a two-run single that plated Stewart and Ryder for a 4-3 Lake Oswego lead.
'I was a little worried,' Mardesich said. 'I just hoped she'd miss it.'
She did and the inning continued with Moore lifting a fly ball into shallow center field that dropped between three players for a single. Cedar Mill loaded the bases when Madeline Fey's check swing dribbler squirted past the pitcher.
Erin Gray provided the final blow. She smacked a full-count pitch back up the middle to score Mardesich and Moore for a 6-3 lead.
'I was just taking deep breaths and thinking I'm going to get a hit,' Gray said. 'It just kind of went the way I wanted it to.'
As did the rest of the game for Cedar Mill. Moore retired six of the final seven batters she faced to send Cedar Mill back to the Little League World Series, which starts August 10 at Alpenrose Dairy.
Moore struck out the first two batters of the sixth. The Mad Dawgs clinched the title when Gray handled a two-hopper to third and fired across the diamond to first baseman Anne Marie Richards for the final out.
'We lost a lot of our good players (from last year's team), but we got a bunch of new players that are really good,' said Gray, who played on last year's team. 'They've done really well to take their positions.'
While Cedar Mill surprised the field to win last year's district title, the Mad Dawgs entered this season's tournament with a pronounced target on their backs as the favorite.
'Last year we weren't expected to win so it was kind of more crazy,' Mardesich said. 'This year we were ready to play and win. We may be stronger this year because we've bonded so well. We've really come together as a team.'
That was apparent after an ugly third inning in which Cedar Mill essentially gave Lake Oswego all three of its runs with a quartet of errors. A pair of miscues put runners at second and third. Allie Buchman hit a grounder back to the mound and Moore fired home late as Yurika Asai scored to tie the game at 1-1. The ball squirted away from the catcher and Maddie Marquard also raced home to score and give Lake Oswego the lead.
The next batter reached when the shortstop's throw to first was off the target, allowing Buchman to score Lake Oswego's third unearned run. Lake Oswego's Molly Pyle eventually got to third, but Moore struck out a batter and fielded a grounder for the final out.
'I thought Lake Oswego would be the sleeper spoiler team all along,' coach Ryder said. 'They were ready for us and threw the right pitcher to keep us off balance. It took us a handful of innings to adjust.'
Cedar Mill got its first run in the bottom of the first inning when Mardesich broke for home on a groundout and slid in just ahead of the relay throw.
The Mad Dawgs, who outscored their opponents 34-0 to win their pool, got their second run in the third. Kim Ryder led off by beating out an infield single. She stole second and raced around third to score on Mardesich's grounder through the left side of the infield.
Cedar Mill averaged nearly 10 runs per game in going 5-0 at the district tournament. Coach Ryder said the key to his team's continued success at the World Series will be keeping the bats hot.
'They're hitting too well and are able to adjust too well to be contained,' coach Ryder said. 'Once our pitching gets to where they can be, there's going to be some surprised teams.'
The Mad Dawgs went 2-3 at last year's World Series, losing a pair of games by a run.
'This will be the second time for some of us, so we're excited to go back and do better this year,' Moore said.