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Sun Creek 9-10s break new ground at state tourney

The 9-10 all-star team is the first Sun Creek team to reach state, and the team wins the state title, too

ADAMS - As hot as it was on the Fahrenheit scale, the Sun Creek Little League 9-10 all-stars were even hotter at the state tournament.

The Sun Creek stars, the first Sun Creek team to ever reach state, marked their spot in league history on Saturday, posting a 6-5 win over Reynolds in to win the Little League state championship at Adams, some 12 miles northeast of Pendleton.

It was more than just a state title, however. It was a watershed moment in Sun Creek history, a dividing line between a less-than-successful past and a (hopefully) more successful future.

'The kids just did a great job,' said Sun Creek manager Pete McConnell. 'They were excited to be (at state). They were excited to win the District 4 tournament and they were happy to have a chance to do something special at state.'

Sun Creek made it exciting, too, watching Reynolds rally from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game in the fifth and push ahead 5-4 in the top of the seventh before coming through with its own dramatics in the bottom of the seventh.

In that fateful final at-bat against a Reynolds relief pitcher, Zach Gardner walked and came around to tie the game on Matthew Kingzett's bunt and subsequent Reynolds overthrow. Next batter Jason Stofiel bunted safely and moved Kingzett to third base, and with Mitch McConnell in the batter's box, Kingzett raced home on a passed ball and gave Sun Creek its first state championship.

'It was a huge relief,' Pete McConnell said. 'The kids played hard and I think everyone wanted to go home Saturday afternoon. It was a great relief to win.'

Pitcher Zach Larison held Reynolds in check early in the contest, but a Reynolds triple and three singles helped Reynolds tie the game at 4-4 in the fifth inning and brought Stofiel in to pitch the rest of the way.

Offensively, Stofiel singled and scored on a passed ball in the first inning, and Kingzett - who celebrated his 11th birthday on Saturday, followed suit for a 2-0 lead in the third. Sun Creek boosted its lead to 4-1 in the fourth on an RBI single by Adam Johnson and another Reynolds passed ball.

But Reynolds used two two-out two walks and a single to score the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh and set up Sun Creek's decisive final at-bat.

'This team has been together several years. They've played together in several tournaments (and) we have an outstanding pitching staff,' Pete McConnell said, praising the efforts of Larison, Kevin Lave and Stofiel. He also gave high marks to his team's infielders, including Kingzett at shortstop, Stofiel and Gardner at second, Mitch McConnell at first and three players at third, not to mention the yeoman work of Jake Neeson at catcher - he caught every inning of the tournament in the 100+degrees weather.

In their other tournament games, the Sun Creek stars opened with a 16-1 rout of Eugene's Emerald Valley on July 23. Larison and Johnson knocked in three runs each in the win. Larison pitched all four innings, striking out two of the final three batters he faced for the victory.

In Sun Creek's second game (on July 25), the Beaverton stars scratched out a 6-4 win over a tough Medford American team. In that game, Sun Creek blasted out a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, getting a two-run single from Larison and RBI hits from both Lave and McConnell.

Medford cut the gap to 4-1 in the bottom of the third, but Sun Creek responded in kind, with Gardner singling, stealing second and third and scoring on Stofiel's hit to center field. Sun Creek extended its advantage to 6-1 in the fifth inning (on a run-scoring grounder by Mitch Tamblyn) before Medford closed within 6-3 in the bottom of the frame.

Stofiel struck out two of the first three batters he faced in the bottom of the sixth, saw Medford knock in its fourth run, then ended the contest when relief pitcher Lave came on for the final out on his first pitch.

Sun Creek made it three straight last Thursday when the team hammered Pendleton 13-3. Sun Creek led just 4-3 after Pendleton's three-run third, but the team pulled away with a seven-run fourth inning highlighted by two bases-loaded walks, two run-scoring passed balls and a two-run single by Tamblyn. Tamblyn also came through in the bottom of the fifth, bunting home Gardner to end the game at 13-3.

Other team members included Kyle Cox, Evan Isaak, Cole Hisey, Paul Burton, coaches Jeff Larison and Dave Cox, and scorekeeper Mike Gardner.

- Miles Vance