The Lake Oswego baseball team could use some help in its attempt to lay sole claim to the Three Rivers League championship.
The Lakers were seemingly in the driver's seat when they held a one-game lead over their closest pursuers with two weeks left in the regular season. But that one-game lead disappeared last Friday when Lake Oswego lost a 7-3 decision to West Linn.
That moved West Linn into a first-place tie with the Lakers. If the two teams remain tied through next Monday's league finale, West Linn will be awarded the league's No. 1 playoff seed on the strength of its 2-1 edge in the season series between the Lakers and the Lions.
But Lake Oswego coach Jake Anders wouldn't let his troops dwell too much on last Friday's disappointing loss. The coach knew that more trouble lurked around the corner - namely Putnam, which was Lake Oswego's opponent on Monday. To their credit, the Lakers did what they had to do against the Kingsmen as they held on for a 6-5 victory.
'I don't know if it makes up for Friday,' Anders said. 'Friday was a game that we needed to win. What was good about (Monday's win) was the kids responded after what I thought was a poor performance on Friday.'
Even though the Lakers have already locked up a spot in the state playoffs, the remaining week of the season is hugely important because it will decide where teams will be seeded. While it may be difficult to steal away the top seed from West Linn, the Lakers don't want to slip to No. 3 because it would mean a first-round playoff game on the road.
'It's the playoffs right now. It's playoff baseball in the TRL,' Anders said. 'Anybody knows that on any given day, any team can win.'
Putnam has been one of the most feared teams in the TRL this season. If you need confirmation, just ask West Linn, which lost its season series against the Kingsmen. So, Lake Oswego certainly wasn't taking Putnam lightly on Monday.
Those fears were well founded as Putnam led 2-1 after the first inning and 3-2 going into the bottom of the fifth. But the Lakers got the timely hitting that was lacking in Friday's game. They also got a gritty pitching performance from Jared Van Hoon, who didn't have his best stuff but still pitched well enough to keep Putnam from mounting any big rallies.
The Kingsmen's Curt Snowley set the tone of the game when he led off the first inning with a double. Two batters later, Snowley scored on a double by Shawn Chancellor, who wound up making his way home on a groundout.
The Lakers probably should have scored two runs in the first as well, but one of those runs was cut down at the plate. It happened after Matt Stutes had singled and looked to score on a double by Alex Freeman. But Stutes was out at home on a strong throw by the Putnam right fielder. Freeman still managed to score, though, on a groundout by Cooper Mandelblatt.
Stutes and Freeman also teamed up for a run in the third, which tied the score at 2-all. The inning started when Stutes doubled off the left-field fence. He then stole third and scored on Freeman's ground ball to third.
After a scoreless fourth, Putnam got the go-ahead run in the fifth when Chancellor scored on a well-executed double play that went from Cam Yates (at second) to Mandelblatt (the shortstop) to Michael Wesner (at first).
The Lakers then took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth when Wesner singled home Mandelblatt and pinch runner Steve Eisenhauer. Moments later, Jeff Kremer brought in Wesner with a single, which made it 5-3.
In the sixth, Stutes gave the Lakers what appeared to be just an insurance run when he ripped a long, solo homer to left-center field. But that run wound up being the difference in the game after Snowley blasted a solo shot of his own to start the seventh. The Kingsmen then tacked on another run in that frame after picking up a pair of bloop singles.
'Today, the thing I think I'm most proud of is our kids continued to grit it out,' Anders said.
At the top of the gritty performance list might have been Van Hoon. The biggest out he recorded was the one that ended the game, when he struck out a Putnam batter on a hard-breaking slider with the potential tying run at second.
Van Hoon also struck out three batters in the fourth, but they were sandwiched around his own throwing error and an intentional walk to Snowley.
For the game, Van Hoon (who went the distance) yielded five walks and seven hits, but most of them were spread out.
The Lakers' offense, on the other hand, blasted the ball all over the park. They finished with 14 hits, including a 4-for-4 effort by Stutes and a 3-for-4 day by Wesner.
Lake Oswego could have used some of those hits against West Linn last Friday. Things looked good early on, though, especially when Bennett Frazier belted a solo homer in the second. The Lakers then tacked on another run in the third when Stutes scored on Mandelblatt's sacrifice fly.
But Lake Oswego didn't score again until the seventh after back-to-back singles by Moto Asai and Stutes and a walk by Freeman. Asai then scored on an RBI groundout by Mandelblatt. The Lakers wound up with just seven hits in that game, two by Stutes and one each by Freeman, Frazier, Van Hoon and Asai.