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Lakers relish underdog role in OIBA tourney

by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego’s Chad Kjemhus puts a tag on a Tualatin runner during the team’s opening round game of the OIBA playoffs at Lake Oswego High School last week. The team tallied an upset in that game with a 12-1 victory and eventually advanced to the championship match against Jesuit.

Maybe it was the home-field advantage or maybe it was just a young team putting things together at the right time but Lake Oswego's summer baseball team was arguably the biggest surprise in its bracket of the OIBA playoffs over the weekend, advancing all the way to the title match before falling 8-1 to a loaded Jesuit team.

The Lakers came into the tournament having had a successful offseason already. However, the team was one of the bracket's lower seeds and, as such, drew a strong Tualatin team in the tournament's opening round.

But Lake Oswego proved it wasn't intimidated. Led by Brock Pellow's performance on the mound, the Lakers took a slim lead early in the game against the Timberwolves before exploding late en route to a 12-1 victory.

Jeff Kremer paced the offense for much of the tournament and the team fed off his energy at the plate against Tualatin.

'Jeff and Joe Clark really led us for the whole tournament,' Anders said.

He had a home run early in the game to get the team off on the right foot.

'Tualatin came into the tournament as one of the favorites and we beat a very good pitcher. I think once we won that game the kids started to believe that they belonged there and felt they could beat anybody,' Laker coach Jake Anders said.

Pellow threw a complete game for his team and only needed 85 pitches to do it.

After pulling off the early upset, the Lakers drew a Southridge team that they had already beaten earlier in the year.

But this time Lake Oswego couldn't come up with the clutch hits.

Mitchell Coleman was solid on the mound for the Lakers but his offense couldn't capitalize on its opportunities.

'We just put the ball in the air too often. We felt we were as good of a team as they were,' Anders said.

That put the Lakers in the consolation bracket where they would need a Herculean effort to put them back in contention.

First up in the consolation bracket was league-rival and defending state champions Clackamas.

Nick Rulli took the mound for the Lakers and was brilliant, keeping the Cavaliers at bay for much of the game.

'Nick threw a gem. He was really popping with velocity,' Anders said.

The teams were knotted at 2-2 late in the game when Clackamas loaded the bases with two outs.

The Cavaliers then knocked a ball up the middle and shortstop Tyler Campbell dove to make the stop. From the turf he flipped the ball from his glove to Chad Kjemhus for the game-saving out.

The Lakers would go on to win the game 3-2 in eight innings.

'It was a great team effort and we really wanted to beat our rivals and end their summer. We just made play after play in that game,' Anders said.

That evening, Lake Oswego took on Sunset, which had been one of the hardest-hitting teams in the tournament.

Knowing he had a depleted pitching staff, Anders gave graduated senior Jared Van Hoon a call.

Van Hoon was camping at the time but got in his car and drove to the stadium for the evening game.

Without missing a beat, Van Hoon mowed down Sunset's hitters efficiently, giving up just one run in the game.

'Jared really gives our kids confidence when he's on the mound,' Anders said.

Lake Oswego strolled to a 7-1 win in the game and, after picking up the win, Van Hoon jumped back in his car and drove back to the campground.

On Sunday morning, the Lakers drew Southridge again, a team that Lake Oswego can't seem to avoid during the summer.

'It's funny, two years ago we knocked them out of the playoffs and last year they did it to us. This was a game we really wanted to have,' Anders said.

Without many options, Anders turned to Pellow again on limited rest and the young pitcher didn't disappoint. Pellow threw another complete game, keeping the Lakers in the game early before the line-up exploded again in the later innings.

Lake Oswego blew the game open and ran away with a 10-4 victory to move into the championship match-up against Jesuit.

That test proved too tough, however.

Jesuit hadn't lost a game in the tournament and, as a benefit of staying in the winner's bracket, didn't have to expend its pitching staff.

Lake Oswego went up against Jake Keudell and the ace threw a three-hitter and took a shut out into the seventh inning.

Jesuit got off to a fast start on offense, scoring seven runs in the early innings including a grand slam.

'That team is pretty stacked right now and they have some kids who can really rake the ball,' Anders said.

Anders then put Kjemhus into the game and he only gave up one more run to the Crusaders but the damage had already been done.

'We just kind of ran out of pitching and Jesuit definitely proved it was the best team. But we're still very happy with our performance. We left on a high note,' Anders said.

Still it was a terrific way to end the summer season for the Lakers who hosted their half of the tournament.

'We were really glad to be in the OIBA this year and I think we have a good infrastructure to host a tournament like this,' Anders said.

Anders feels his team came together very nicely over the past few weeks and believes that the Lakers will be formidable once again next spring despite losing a handful of stars to graduation. The Lakers made the state semifinals last spring before losing to Clackamas.

'Two weeks into the summer I had no clue what kind of team I was going to have but the chemistry started to form. We're very excited about next year. Rebuilding isn't acceptable to us. We want to reload,' Anders said.