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Five-run seventh inning dooms West Linn

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Shortstop Ryan Barnes forces out Lake Oswego’s Michael Wesner at second base during the first inning of last Monday’s 5-4 loss. Wesner would hit a game-tying grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The Lions were on cruise control for all but 10 minutes on Monday during the first of a three-game series with Lake Oswego.

West Linn was riding a vintage performance by its ace, Kyle Kraus, who only gave up three hits through six innings of work and hadn't allowed a runner to reach second base since the second inning.

As a result, the Lions led 4-0 and seemed just a few pitches away from a 3-0 start in league.

But the Lakers have been scrappy all year. Nick Rulli and Brian Zinsmeister came through with back-to-back singles and Craig Mooney followed with a pop-up to shallow left field that dropped for a single as Rulli barely beat a throw to third base.

Suddenly, some fortuitous bounces had brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Michael Wesner, Lake Oswego's most dangerous hitter.

The senior took a two-strike pitch and belted it far over the right-field fence to tie the game. West Linn was understandably rattled. Lake Oswego's next batter was barely thrown out after shortstop Ryan Barnes made a terrific defensive play. Jeff Cramer followed with another single and he advanced into scoring position on Moto Asai's groundout.

The Lions intentionally walked Nick Torkelson and Tom Slade, Lake Oswego's ninth batter of the inning stepped to the plate. Slade knocked a single to shallow right field and the throw to the plate came in off-target. Cramer originally stopped between third base and home but took off toward the plate as Kraus fielded the errant throw. His toss to Joe Offer at the plate was a split-second too late as Cramer slid in for the winning run, touching off an enthusiastic celebration.

'The bottom line is we just couldn't get three outs. Four runs should have won that game,' coach Mike Lord said.

It was a difficult loss for the Lions to take as the Lakers are expected to be their toughest competition in the race for the league title. And, for six and a half innings, West Linn did virtually everything right.

In the top of the second inning, Kyle Connolly hit a double to right-center field after a tremendous at bat and plated Justin Williams for the game's first run.

Kraus put runners on first and second base with only one out in each of the first two innings but then proceeded to get the next batter on strikes each time and eventually worked out of the jams.

Those would be the only scoring threats the Lakers would mount until the seventh.

'There weren't a lot of hard hit balls off of Kyle. In fact, the only hard hit was probably the home run,' Lord said.

For a while it looked like the Lions might not need any insurance runs with the way Kraus was pitching. But they got some anyway.

In the top of the sixth, Barnes led off with a single and Kraus sacrificed him to second base.

Then, with two outs, Jack Simon came through with a pinch-hit RBI single.

In the top of the seventh, Jake Hysell led off and reached on an infield single. Justin Monahan followed with an RBI double and Offer sacrificed him to third base.

Barnes then hit a sharp ground ball to the left side. Barnes was thrown out at first and Monahan broke for home, barely beating the throw to the plate with a nice slide.

Kraus and Eliot Smith followed with singles and the inning ended when Kraus was thrown out at the plate on a double steal attempt.

But, needless to say, the four-run cushion appeared to be more than enough for the Lions heading into the bottom of the seventh.

'We played pretty well. We only had one error that didn't hurt us. That's just how baseball is sometimes,' Lord said.

It was a tough way for West Linn to open up the important three-game series. The team had a game against the Lakers on Wednesday and will finish the series on Friday.

West Linn was coming off a solid tournament over spring break in Orange County, Calif. Even though the Lions went 0-4, it was against some of the nation's best teams and West Linn had opportunities to win three of those four contests.

'It was definitely a good experience for us to play teams like that,' Lord said.

Next week the Lions will play a pair of non-league games.