Despite being one of the youngest teams in its division, Lake Oswego's U14 softball team more than held its own during last weekend's summer national tournament that was held in Newberg.
In fact, the Lakers finished third in a 30-team bracket that featured teams from all over the western United States. The Lakers' only losses came against a pair of older, star-studded teams from the Seattle area.
Until then, Lake Oswego had won its first five games and seemed to be a bona fide threat to win the title. Even with the two Sunday losses, the Lakers still had a lot to be proud of.
They were a team that seemed to get better by the week. During the last month, they finished seventh in the state tournament, then third at regionals and third at the western nationals.
'When the season started, we were a decent team,' coach Don Hunt said. 'By the end of the season, we were a great team. It was amazing how much they improved.'
The Lakers were the second-youngest team in their division, but that didn't matter because they've been beating older teams most of the summer. With an average age of 12½, a majority of the Laker team will be eligible to play in the same U14 tournaments next year. At that level, they might be favored to win the western nationals, but Hunt is seriously considering moving the team up to the U16 level.
Going into the tournament, Hunt wasn't worried about the youthfulness of his team. He was far more concerned about sheer numbers.
A week before the Newberg tourney began, the Lakers had only eight healthy players on their roster. Fortunately, Emily Wong was able to return from a sprained ankle. But the team had to play without its regular catcher, Molly Pyle, who suffered a hamstring injury the week before. Plus, Allie Buckman was unable to play because of a broken leg.
It helped, though, that the Lakers were able to add Claire McKinney, a stellar pitcher who will eventually play for Lakeridge. She was a perfect complement to the Lakers' regular pitcher, Madelynn Dunn, who wound up making the tournament all-star team. Dunn won three of the four games she pitched in last weekend's tournament while McKinney sported a 2-1 mark.
Also making the all-star squad were Emilee Symonds and Maddy Marquard. Symonds led the Lakers with six doubles while Marquard is the team's defensive star.
Also enjoying excellent tournaments were Joscelyn Park, who hit .450 and Erin Haagenson, who hit .429. In addition, Katelyn Galos rapped out six RBIs while Dunn and Wong both hit over .300.
Lake Oswego started the tournament off with an easy 9-3 win over the Newberg Tigers on Thursday. Later that day, they beat the Oregon Silver Bullets 6-4.
The Lakers actually trailed the Bullets 4-1 after five innings, but they closed the gap to 4-3 after Lindsay Shallman's double in the top of the sixth. Lake Oswego then took the lead in the seventh on RBI singles by Wong, Park and Galos.
Sammy Saldivar then preserved the victory with a spectacular diving catch in the outfield.
The following day, LO beat the Westside Diamonds 5-3, thanks to a key hit by Marquard that scored Saldivar with the go-ahead run in the sixth.
Later that day, the Lakers beat the Forest Grove Renegades 2-1 in extra innings. Dunn pitched seven shutout innings after giving up an unearned run in the first.
Lake Oswego was behind 1-0 going into the bottom of the seventh but tied the game when Dunn singled home Symonds. The winning run came in the eighth when Galos scored on a liner by Katie Phelps.
The Lakers played just once on Saturday, beating the Seattle Spice 6-0 behind the eight-strikeout, three-hit pitching of McKinney.
The Lakers could have advanced to the championship game by winning either of their games on Sunday. Instead, they lost their first contest 6-2 to the Spanaway Double J's and then lost 11-4 to the Seattle Torrent. It was nothing to be ashamed of, though.
'The Seattle team that beat us - their whole team is going to be sophomores. So they beat up on a bunch of 12-year-olds. What's your point?' Hunt wondered after the game.
Initially, Hunt wasn't committed to coaching the U14 team, which has been coached in the past by Hunt's daughter, Reena Day. But Day talked her father into helping out this summer.
'It was one of the nicest experiences in my coaching career,' Hunt said. 'I'm glad she talked me into it.'