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Pacers win revamped Firecracker Tourney

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lakeridge received solid play all-around during last weekend’s Firecracker Tournament. Evan Israel comes into score in the team’s first game against Cleveland.

The first Firecracker Tournament put on by new Lakeridge baseball coach Collin Griffin went off without a hitch. The team's newly revamped field was in perfect shape and played that way and the competition was strong.

And, for Griffin, that was a victory in itself. Over the past few years, the Firecracker Tournament has struggled to bring in quality teams as poor facilities and poor organization has led to less than ideal conditions for visiting teams.

But Griffin was able to bring in a strong group of teams and they were instantly impressed by the field and by Griffin's commitment to turning the Firecracker Tournament into an elite tournament again.

'I think it went very smoothly and there was some really good baseball. I think, out of all the games, there was only one blowout,' Griffin said.

Griffin received nothing but positive comments throughout the event which meant that any success his own team saw during the tournament would just be icing on the cake.

As it turned out, the Pacers had more than their fair share of success, winning their pool with a 2-1 record and then beating The Dalles in the championship game to win its own tournament.

'The kids are really starting to get it. They're taking pride in the field and in how they look and realize what the coaching staff expects of them,' Griffin said.

In its opening game, Lakeridge topped Cleveland 6-2 behind strong pitching and defense. Drew Burdick picked up the win for the Pacers and received a nearly mistake-free effort from the players behind him.

'Everything worked. Burdick stepped up for us and our bats came to life,' Griffin said.

The Pacers were then downed by Lewis and Clark in a pitcher's duel 1-0. Ben Swinford started the game for Lakeridge and Evan Israel came on in relief as the duo combined to pitch a gem.

However, Lewis and Clark's pitching kept Lakeridge at bay for the entire contest as it held on for the victory.

The Pacers entered their final game of pool play knowing that, with a victory over Reynolds, they could advance to the finals day's championship game.

Lakeridge got a strong pitching performance from Miles Booth to keep the damage to a minimum but the Raiders still led late in the game.

But then the Pacers received timely hitting and started to execute at the plate.

As a result, Lakeridge made up the small deficit and rallied for a thrilling victory.

In the title game, the Pacers turned to Brady Burdick, a former player who is now on the team at Northwest Nazarene and they received another gem.

Lakeridge started slowly at the plate but heated up quickly and, again, received clutch hits at opportune times to hold on for the impressive win over The Dalles and earn the tournament's trophy.

'Brady just threw on the inside part of the plate and their kids couldn't make adjustments. There were some nerves in the first few innings but then we came to life and didn't seem scared to be there at all,' Griffin said.

It was a terrific result from a team that is still figuring out Griffin's system and making steps to rebuild a successful program.

'The neat thing was that the whole team stepped up. We didn't win because of one kid's play. We understand that we belong in every game,' Griffin said.

It was also a shot in the arm for a team that was suffered an inordinate number of injuries so far this summer including a torn labrum to Eric Hillier.

'It's been kind of crazy but it's still been a really successful (summer) season,' Griffin said.

The Pacers will continue their summer ball schedule until the end of July.