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Lakers are Struck out in semifinals

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lake Oswego right fielder Brian Zinsmeister prepares to make a catch with two outs in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s semifinal game against Clackamas. The catch came with the bases loaded and saved at least two runs.

There won't be too many 'what if' moments for the Lake Oswego baseball team when it reflects on its 3-0 loss to Clackamas in the semifinals on Tuesday. There simply weren't many opportunities where things could have been any different.

On this day, Clackamas' Nick Struck was just too good. The senior threw arguably the best game of his career, saving that performance for the biggest game of his life to date. He struck out 13 batters in a complete game one-hitter and only allowed a runner to reach scoring position twice.

What can you do about that?

'You've got to tip your cap to him. He came and was rocking the plate. When you get to this level of the season, if you can't beat the best pitching you don't deserve to win,' Laker coach Jake Anders said.

Heading into the game, Lake Oswego had seen Clackamas three previous times and beaten the Cavaliers twice. However, the team's loss came when Struck was on the mound. Still, in that game, Struck wasn't as dominant as he was on Tuesday.

'There's no doubt about it. We had a very tough league schedule and it prepared us for the playoffs. We're proud to have a representative from the TRL playing in the state championship,' Anders said.

The Lakers' lone hit came in the top of the fourth inning when Michael Wesner hit a lead-off bloop single to centerfield. Struck then recorded three straight strike outs. That sequence summed up the majority of the game.

Lake Oswego's Moto Asai pitched well enough to win for the Lakers, giving up two runs in four innings. Clackamas was able to piece together hits against Asai but the senior pitcher stepped up time after time in clutch situations.

He gave up a run in the bottom of the second inning after Clackamas' Spencer Weaver singled, stole second base and advanced to third on the throw that hit him and caromed into the outfield. With two outs he was plated by a seeing eye single from Jon Walters.

Then, in the third inning, Clackamas put runners at the corners with one out and Asai worked out of the jam. In the fourth inning, back-to-back singles and a perfect bunt for a hit loaded the bases with no outs.

Once again Asai stepped up, striking out the next two batters he faced and getting a nice two-out catch in right field by Brian Zinsmeister.

'(Moto) did a great job just battling. It's a tough way for him to go out being a senior. We just didn't get enough hits for him,' Anders said.

Leading off the bottom of the fifth inning, Clackamas' Jake Nolte came up and hit what originally looked like a long pop fly to left field. But the ball carried and nearly hit the left field foul pole, clearing the 310-foot fence by inches.

Lake Oswego then went to the bullpen and brought in Jared Van Hoon. Van Hoon gave up a run in the sixth inning after a potential double-play ball was booted. Struck knocked a ball to centerfield to score a run and was gunned down at second base for the second out.

The error ultimately wouldn't matter, however. Lake Oswego's scoring chances were few and far between. In the top of the first, Van Hoon walked and advanced to second base on a wild pitch before a ground out ended the inning.

Asai had one of Lake Oswego's best scoring chances all by himself in the top of the second inning. Leading off, Asai crushed a pitch to left field that sailed just a few feet foul. The Lakers' only other runner to get past first base was Jeff Kremer who drew a lead-off walk in the top of the sixth and moved to third on a pair of ground balls before Struck got out of the inning.

The Lakers got to the semifinals after a successful road trip to Roseburg, which is always one of the more difficult places to play in the state.

Lake Oswego's offense didn't have much trouble in this game. The team quickly scored four runs in the first inning. Kremer led off with a double and Wesner followed with a triple. After an error, Tom Slade knocked an RBI single.

Then, in the top of the second, Mooney led off with a single, Kremer walked and Anders let Wesner hit away. Wesner responded with a three-run home run, giving his team a 7-0 lead.

Roseburg slowly chipped away, hitting a solo home run in the third inning. Then, in the bottom of the fourth, a controversial call in which the umpire ruled that a throw pulled Wesner off the first base bag, led to a five-run inning to put the home team right back in the game.

Van Hoon worked five innings for the Lakers and entered the sixth with a 9-8 lead. He then put runners on first and second with no outs, prompting a call to the bullpen as Asai came in.

Asai walked the first batter he faced on four pitches but then coaxed a run-scoring double play and another ground out to limit the damage. Lake Oswego scored twice in the top of the seventh and Asai pitched a scoreless seventh inning to seal the victory.

Overall, it was a tough end to a terrific season for the Lakers.

Lake Oswego was slightly under the radar heading into the postseason after working through a brutally tough league to earn the No. 2 seed. The team loses six seniors including its three top pitchers and all six of those seniors, Van Hoon, Wesner, Asai, Slade Mooney and Tom will go on to play baseball in college.

'This was probably the best overall team effort we've ever had. These kids followed a plan for the season,' Anders said.