Lake Oswego all-star team bounces back from two early losses to claim the Northwest Regional championship
Despite facing the equivalent of three consecutive elimination games, the Lake Oswego Little League all-star team is headed to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., after beating the Washington all-stars 6-2 in the nationally televised Northwest Regional championship game Sunday night.
That victory capped an improbable run for a Lake Oswego team that was a huge underdog coming into the title game.
'Everybody was expecting us to get blown out,' Lake Oswego coach Craig Ramey noted. 'ESPN and the newspapers down here were billing the game as David versus Goliath. So we knew we had to play a great game in order to win.'
The Lake Oswego team scored all of its runs on home runs, including two early shots by catcher Brennan Malagamba and a three-run insurance blast by Calvin Hermanson in the sixth.
The Lakers also got an outstanding pitching performance from Levi Rudolph, who struck out 10 batters through the first five innings. Rudolph also played a pivotal role in the state championship game when he threw a no-hitter against Pendleton.
After hitting his crucial home run in the top of the sixth, which increased Lake Oswego's cushion from one to four runs, Hermanson then pitched a perfect sixth inning to earn the save.
The win over Pendleton gave Lake Oswego its first-ever state title. But few people expected the Lakers to advance past the Northwest Regional, where Washington seemed virtually unbeatable. The previously unbeaten Washington all-stars entered the regional finale with a .536 team batting average, which included 17 home runs in five games.
Lake Oswego, on the other hand, had to scratch and claw its way to the final game. The LO all-stars lost their first pool game by a 7-4 count to Idaho. Lake Oswego quickly regrouped, though, to beat Wyoming 17-6.
But that was followed by a humbling 14-7 loss to Washington. The seven runs that Lake Oswego scored in that game wound up being the only runs Washington yielded during pool play.
That loss put Lake Oswego into a must-win situation in the final round of pool play and the Lakers responded with an impressive 11-2 victory over Montana.
'That sort of seems to be the character of our team,' Ramey said of his team's ability to rebound from a difficult situation.
That victory earned Lake Oswego the No. 3 seed in the regional semifinals and a rematch against Idaho.
Lake Oswego appeared to be in trouble in that contest after falling behind 8-3 through four innings. But the Lakers have made a habit this summer of scoring runs in bunches and they did it again in the semis when they scored 12 times in the fifth inning.
Lake Oswego batted around twice in that inning with Reid Penny and Hermanson each hitting a grand slam home run. For Penney, it was his fifth home run in as many games.
In the title game, the LO team jumped to a 1-0 lead in the top of the second on a solo homer by Malagamba. But Washington bounced back in the bottom of that frame when Michael Tanaka-Gildow belted a two-run homer.
That would mark the last time that the team from Kent would score, which was a surprise since Washington had outscored its regional opponents by a 75-7 margin coming into that game.
Malagamba then gave Lake Oswego the lead for good at 3-2 when he ripped a two-run shot, scoring Mitch Lomax ahead of him.
Then it was Hermanson's turn in the sixth. After entering the game earlier as a pinch-hitter, Hermanson stayed around for an extra at-bat and he delivered with a three-run blast, which also scored Lomax and Malagamba.
In the bottom of the sixth, Hermanson moved to the mound where he relieved Rudolph, who was out of pitches. And Hermanson retired Washington's formidable lineup in order to set off a wild celebration.
Even though the Lakers were underdogs, Ramey said his team never seemed fazed.
'That pressure helps them play better,' he said. 'We really have a good team chemistry thing going … and we have all of the confidence in the world.'
Before the regional tournament began, a number of people thought Washington had a team that was good enough to win the Little League World Series. Is is possible now that Lake Oswego is good enough to win it all?
'Why not? We're as good as anybody,' Ramey said. 'I can't imagine that we wouldn't have a chance to win it all.'