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Juniors win first three, then exit with two losses

Team fights the good fight, but loses last two
by: Darci Hering HARD HURLER—Will Sprute was one of 10 Scappoose Juniors that came up big at the Little League Western Regional Tournament last week.

The Scappoose Juniors knew they were in the toughest bracket of the Western Regional Tournament and that their most challenging games would come at the end of pool play against the two California schools last weekend.

The 13-14 year-olds set themselves up for a run at the championship semifinals by winning their first three games of the Little League tournament. They downed a Henderson, Nev., team 11-10 in a back-and-forth slugfest to open the tournament on Tuesday. They came back the next day to post a 13-7 win over a team from Billings, Mont. Thursday they topped Naches, Wash., 7-4.

The team had Friday off and spent the day at Disneyland. 'Everybody went,' Manager Jeff Hering said. 'They kids had a blast. It was the first time for many of them.'

All seemed well going into Saturday's game against the Northern California representative, Rocklin. That team had a loss, but that was just a 4-3 game against San Clemente, the Southern California rep.

Hering said the coaching staff knew their overall finish would hang in the balance on Saturday. 'We absolutely knew it would be a tough game and how important it was,' Hering said. 'They battled against their No. 2 guy. He threw 85 miles-per-hour.'

Scappoose fell behind 6-1, but would close the gap. Justin Hering would single to reach first, then Lionel Sandoval blasted a shot to score him. Scappoose would close the difference to just 6-4. 'We fought hard, but it was too late,' Manager Hering said.

If Scappoose had won, they would have emerged at least second in pool play and made the finals. Now they needed to beat San Clemente and beat them by six runs.

'It was likely we wouldn't advance,' Hering said. The coaching staff didn't tell the kids, but they may have picked up on it by looking at Facebook comments.

Sunday the team fell behind San Clemente, trailing 15-0 at one point.

'Jonny Tardif walked and stole second, and then Robby Backus tripled to score him,' Hering said. 'Robby stole home on a passed ball.' That gave Scappoose at least some solace in their worst game of the season, going back to state and district.

Hering said their first three games were all good games for the team. They had battled back against Nevada, dominated their game against Montana, and played very well against Washington.

Big plays in the game against Nevada included an in-the-park homer by Sandoval, and a Wyatt Patton blooper over first with the bases loaded to score three runs.

Against Montana, Scappoose had just a 5-4 lead in the early going. In the sixth with it still a bit close, Sandoval blistered a hit with the bases loaded to score Logan Brooks and Justin Hering. Patton followed with a hit to score Steven Johnson. Will Sprute and Jake Ford both walked to send Patton home. Owen Fortney then drilled a shot down the third base line for a base-clearing double. He would score on a hit to second by Brooks.

Against Washington in the seventh, Sandoval would have a triple to the fence to score Backus. Sprute made a diving catch in center in the bottom of the inning to end the game.

Hering was happy with the way the pitchers were managed. 'The Little League officials said they had never seen anyone use seven pitchers in a game,' Hering said.

It was a strategy they used at state until the championship, and it worked well for them in the first three games of the regional tournament. He used six pitchers in each of the second and third games. He said the reason was that it allowed them to keep all his pitching available for each game.

Scappoose had a strong fan contingent make the trip. Parents were there for every player, some grandparents, and even a few fans from the area that had been visiting Disneyland. It amounted to 40-50 people and it meant a lot to the team.

'Overall, I'm ecstatic,' Hering added. 'The boys did everything they could and kept their heads up. All the other teams said what a class act we were. Everyone had a positive attitude, from the players to the coaching staff.'

Hering said the team had changed to a less expensive hotel, and everyone was to return on Wednesday night. 'It's back to work now,' he said, 'but the players have a break until school starts.' That is, a break for all those who don't start football or soccer practice next week.