For the first time ever, the city of Lake Oswego can say it has the best Little League baseball team in the state of Oregon.
Lake Oswego's 11-and-12 year-old all-star team laid claim to that honor last weekend when it scored an impressive 7-0 victory over Pendleton in the state championship game, which was played in northeast Portland.
It's been one highlight after another for the LO team, which made an incredible run through the always-tough District 4 tournament and then through the state tourney. Fittingly, the biggest highlight of all came in the state title game when Levi Rudolph threw a no-hitter against a superb Pendleton team that had rolled through all of its previous opponents.
Rudolph just missed pitching a perfect game when he walked the lead-off batter in the sixth inning. For the rest of the game, Pendleton never really came close to getting a hit off of Rudolph, who wasn't even considered Lake Oswego's ace coming into the state tourney.
'I doubt there's ever been a better game pitched in a championship game,' Lake Oswego coach Craig Ramey said later.
Rudolph was backed by a solid lineup of hitters that belted 12 home runs during the six-game state tourney.
'That's a lot of dingers,' Ramey quipped.
Two of those long balls came in the championship game as Harrison Ramey, the coach's son, and the towering Mitch Lomax both homered.
It was all the support Rudolph really needed. But the Lakers have had a habit of scoring runs in bunches this summer and it was no different against Pendleton, and the scoring festivities got under way quickly as LO scored four runs in the first inning.
Pendleton was pitching its ace, Taylor Hammirsla, who had been virtually untouchable en route the championship game. But he was immediately roughed up as Austin Andrews led off the bottom of the first inning with an infield single and Duncan Campbell followed with an RBI double to right-center.
Hammirsla managed to strike out two of the next three batters, with a walk to Brennan Malagamba sandwiched in between. Next up was Harrison Ramey and he ripped an inside-the-park home run, which scored Campbell, Malagamba and himself and gave Lake Oswego an early 4-0 lead.
Lake Oswego pushed its lead to 6-0 in the bottom of the third when Lomax hit a monumental home run, which also scored Campbell after he had walked moments earlier. Lomax's blast was a towering shot that was still rising by the time it reached a stand of trees beyond the center field fence. Coach Ramey called it the most impressive home run he had ever seen at the Little League level.
Lake Oswego tacked on one more run in the fifth when Campbell singled, advanced to third on a pair of passed balls and scored on Malagamba's sacrifice fly.
The rest of the game belonged to Rudolph, who struck out 11 of the 18 batters he faced. Two times, in the third and the fifth, he fanned the side.
Heading into the final inning, Rudolph might have been a bit nervous, and understandably so. Leading up to that inning, his teammates had reminded Rudolph on numerous occasions that he was on the verge of throwing a no-hitter.
In the pros, such talk is considered taboo, but kids at this level don't pay attention to that kind of stuff.
'There was already a lot of buzz going on in the dugout,' coach Ramey said. 'But Levi wasn't fazed.'
Yet, Rudolph started the bottom of the sixth by walking the first hitter, the seventh batter in the lineup. The LO hurler quickly settled down, though, and struck out the next hitter. That was followed by an unassisted groundout to first and then a pop-out to the shortstop, which gave Lake Oswego its first-ever Little League champion.
If the tournament had gone according to plan, Rudolph might not have pitched in the title game. That assignment might have gone to Lomax or maybe Malagamba. But coach Ramey had to use both of those pitchers just to get Lake Oswego out of pool play.
The Lakers got themselves in early trouble when they lost the opening game of the tournament to Centennial by a 3-1 score. The LO team seemed flat in that game, which came just two days after the Lakers registered an euphoric victory in the District 4 title game. But losing that first game at state really put Lake Oswego in a bind.
'We've got to win every game now,' coach Ramey thought after the loss.
And Lake Oswego did just that.
The day after losing to Centennial, the Lakers came back to beat Medford 19-2. They led only 3-2 through three innings, but they scored an incredible 16 runs in the next frame to blow the game wide open.
That fourth inning featured a trio of home runs - one by Reid Penny, then a grand slam by Mikey Gallagher and Mitchell McLaughlin followed with a solo shot. Lake Oswego also got a big game on the mound from Lomax, who used his blazing fastball to shut down the Medford hitters.
Game 3 was against Bend and that contest was tied 1-1 through four innings. But Lake Oswego erupted for six runs in the fifth and wound up winning the game 9-5. Lomax and Campbell both homered in that contest.
Cascade was the last opponent in pool play in a game that was played on Thursday. That gave Lomax enough time to return to the mound and he had another brilliant outing as Lake Oswego won 12-2.
Andrews got things started with a lead-off homer in the first, and LO eventually took a 2-0 lead into the second. The Lakers scored three more runs in the third on an RBI double by Malagamba and a two-run single by Harrison Ramey. In the fourth, Campbell belted a three-run homer 'that kind of iced it,' the coach said. Penny also homered in that game.
That moved Lake Oswego into the semifinals against a St. Helens team that took an early 2-0 lead against Malagamba. But Lake Oswego took the lead for good with five runs in the third. Campbell and Penny both homered in the game and Campbell finished the day with four RBIs.
Malagamba pitched a complete game while using 78 pitches, which effectively prevented him from pitching the following day in the title game. Lomax was also out of innings after going the distance the day before.
'But we have a lot of pitching depth,' coach Ramey said.
No one would argue that point after seeing the way Rudolph pitched against Pendleton.
Now, it's on to the Northwest regionals, which will be held during the next week in San Bernardino, Calif. Lake Oswego will play its first game on Saturday against Idaho. That will be followed by a Sunday afternoon game against Wyoming. The team will then have Monday off and play Washington on Tuesday and Montana on Wednesday. The region also includes Alaska, but Lake Oswego won't play that team because of the luck of the draw.
The top four teams from pool play will then compete in a two-day single-elimination tournament with the winner advancing to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.