Levi Rudolph, Calvin Hermanson combine for a two-hitter to lead LO into national semis
In hindsight, you almost had to expect this. Lake Oswego's players and coaches have spouted over and over that they are resilient and thrive in situations where there is no tomorrow. The Lakers endured cold and wet conditions on Tuesday afternoon to play their best game of the Little League World Series, perhaps of the entire season, knocking off hard-hitting Ohio 6-1 to earn a spot in the national semifinals.
Scoring runs had been a sticking point for Lake Oswego in the series. In fact, heading into Tuesday's game, the Lakers hadn't been able to score before the sixth inning in either of their first two games. But that changed in a hurry.
Starting pitcher Levi Rudolph recorded a perfect first frame despite falling behind in the count 3-0 to the first two batters he faced. But Rudolph struck out Tyler Richards and Kyle Cotcamp to bring the Lakers up.
Austin Andrews led off the bottom of the first and belted a fastball to right field. The ball carried through the wet air and landed just beyond the fence, staking the Lakers to quick 1-0 lead.
'I was looking for a base hit and then saw a pitch I liked and then I drove it out of the park,' Andrews said.
Duncan Campbell followed with a sharp single and, with one out, Brennan Malagamba, who has had a hot bat all tournament long, belted a double to the wall to plate Campbell.
'It was great to get started early. We just haven't hit the ball that well and today we felt that if we came out an hit like we know we can, it would give us a big jump start,' manager Craig Ramey said.
Ohio seemed a bit shell-shocked as the team from Hamilton has not played from behind often this season and may have underestimated Lake Oswego slightly.
'I really felt like we'd make it through today. Once Oregon scored I think we started getting down a bit,' Ohio manager Tim Nichting said.
Ohio got on the board in the second inning. After Brandon Green drew a lead-off walk, a two-out single by John Cornett scored him. Rudolph hit the next batter he faced but then struck out Cody Lehman to end the threat.
Rudolph was effective all afternoon despite the fact that his curve ball was occasionally off-target. The Ohio lineup struggled to figure him out and Rudolph was at his best with runners on base.
'I tried to pitch the way I always pitch. My curveball wasn't working too well so I went to my fastball and tried to use accuracy,' Rudolph said.
Perhaps it was the presence of his mother that gave him an extra boost. Nona Rudolph, after originally not being able to make the trip because of financial reasons, was flown out by the Little League organization prior to Lake Oswego's 1-0 win over Massachusetts.
She was in attendance for Levi's start and claimed that she was more nervous than he was.
'I was on top of the world. I told Levi that if nothing else happens for the rest of the year it's fine because this was incredible,' Nona Rudolph said.
And Levi appreciated her cheers.
'It felt pretty good seeing her in the stands,' Levi Rudolph said.
Lake Oswego held a slim 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth inning. Michael Weiss then led off with a sharp single to centerfield and moved to second base on a fielding error.
Rudolph then reached on a hard-hit ball to third base that was mishandled for an error, putting runners on first and third base. That brought up
Andrews again and he belted another pitch toward the wall.
This shot landed a few feet short of a home run but was good enough for an RBI single. With one out, Mitch Lomax hit a sacrifice fly to left
field, scoring Rudolph and giving Lake Oswego a 4-1 lead. Lake Oswego also knocked Cotcamp out of the game in that inning.
Rudolph struck out the first two batters he faced in the top of the fifth before giving up a single to Tyler Richards. But Rudolph had exceeded his
85-pitch limit and was relieved by Calvin Hermanson.
Hermanson got Cotcamp, one of Ohio's best hitters, to fly out, leaving the Lakers three outs away from advancing through pool play.
Knowing how well Ohio's team hits the ball, Lake Oswego still knew that its three-run lead wasn't completely safe. In the bottom of the fifth, Harrison Ramey drew a one-out walk and Hermanson recorded his first hit of the series, an RBI double. Ramey just beat the throw to the plate to make the score 5-1. Weiss then knocked a single to bring up Rudolph.
With one strike, Rudolph laid down a perfect bunt, scoring Hermanson while reaching first for a hit. That gave the Lakers a five-run lead heading into the top of the sixth.
Hermanson pitched in a stressful situation in Sunday's game against Massachusetts, coming into the game with tying run in scoring position. But, once again, Hermanson was lights out, recording a perfect inning and getting Derrick Best to strike out to end the game.
'He's fallen into that closer role. He does really well in pressure situations. He's a big lefty. He has a good curveball, so he's really someone we look to now to close out a game,' Ramey said.
Lake Oswego played solid defense all game long and didn't commit an error. Perhaps the most dramatic out of the day occurred in the top of the fourth inning when Ohio's first batter hit a soaring fly ball to left field.
Lomax ran in but the heavy wind blew the ball back and to his left. Lomax lunged and caught the ball while falling down in the wet outfield, saving two bases.
The win keeps Lake Oswego's magical run alive and may have earned them the top seed in their pool. If Massachusetts beats Georgia in this evening's game, the Lakers would earn the top seed but if Georgia wins,
Lake Oswego will be the second seed and would likely face a very strong Texas squad in the U.S. semifinals.
'We're really excited. You can imagine the feeling of our team after coming here and losing the first game. To be where we are today, in the final four of the United States bracket is amazing,' Ramey said.
This marks the second year in a row that a team from Oregon has advanced through pool play as Murrayhill from Beaverton made the United States finals last spring.
Regardless of the opponent, the Lakers' semifinal game will take place on Thursday.