Top four in the nation, top eight in the world.
That's pretty impressive company for anyone … for a band of Little League baseball players from Lake Oswego, that's as good as it gets.
For carrying the baseball banner on national television, performing so strongly with such emotion and enthusiasm and for representing Lake Oswego in such a positive fashion, congratulations are in order.
Lake Oswego's all-star team entered the World Series with a 14-4 record and went up against regional all-star teams from around the nation, some of whom were undefeated or had only one loss all year.
This band of 12 players, ages 12 and 13, and led by manager Craig Ramey, father of shortstop Harrison Ramey and coach Brian Campbell, father of third baseman Duncan Campbell, played hard all summer, won the district and Oregon championships, then surprised many by winning the regional championship as well.
The team played in at least 10 elimination games this season and won each one up until its final loss to Texas. Each player had to have at least one at bat and play at least three consecutive defensive outs per game or have the team risk forfeit.
In Williamsport, the Lakers' first game was against the eventual champions from Georgia and Lake Oswego played one of its poorer games of the season. An uncharacteristic number of walks and an inability to come up with base hits hampered the Lakers as the team fell behind early and was never in the game, falling 9-4.
That instantly put Lake Oswego in the familiar position of needing to win or go home. A loss to Massachusetts wouldn't technically eliminate them but it would make advancing highly improbable. Up against a team that had earned a great deal of publicity thanks to a dramatic opening-game victory, Mitch Lomax shut Massachusetts down, getting out of a first-inning jam and then cruising. He threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings. But the game stayed tied at 0-0 until the top of the sixth inning when Reid Penney hit a solo home run. With a runner in scoring position, Calvin Hermanson recorded the final out, keeping Lake Oswego's hopes alive.
Next up for the Lakers was Ohio in a game where the winner advanced to single-elimination play and the loser was out, simple as that. For the first time in the tournament the Lakers scored early, leading the game off with a solo home run by Austin Andrews. Lake Oswego never trailed en route to a 6-1 victory as Levi Rudolph kept Ohio guessing all game long. After the game, coaches surmised that it may have been the team's best effort of the year.
The victory propelled Lake Oswego into the U.S. semifinals against Texas, a team that many people deemed as the favorites in the series. But the Lakers scored first, taking a 2-0 lead on a Hermanson two-run single off of the tournament's top pitcher, Garrett Williams. However, Texas' bats were too potent and the Southwest champs rallied quickly, taking the lead in the next inning and eventually winning 8-2. Prior to the World Series, Texas had outscored its opponents 317 to 12.
The Lake Oswego players represented our area of the world well. They played hard, they celebrated their victories and they handled their defeats with aplomb and dignity. They received high praise from visitors to Williamsport who were impressed with the team's sense of purpose, effort and attitude.
A quality act from top to bottom was what brought together many Lake Oswegans - and Oregonians, for that matter - to a celebration of the sport at its purest sense: Playing the game for the sheer joy of it and not for some of the reasons that occur when the game shifts to the adult arena.
This is only the third time a Little League team from Oregon has made it to the world stage. The fact that last year a Beaverton team also landed in Williamsport was undoubtedly fresh in the minds of some of the players. However, no one probably anticipated this ending at the beginning of the season or when this group of young all-stars was put together in June.
For the entire tournament, the Lakers stayed in good spirits. They endured foul weather that postponed one of their games and the intense pressure brought on by massive media saturation. Although the players were tired by the end of their trip, having been away from home for close to a month, its members kept smiling, making new friends along the way. In the end, players and coaches alike agreed that it was an experience that none of them will ever forget.
They were a fun group to watch, to root for and to welcome back to Portland International Airport Monday. It was the opportunity of a lifetime for many of these young athletes and we appreciate the job they did and the manner in which they did it.
Welcome home, Little Leaguers. And thanks for the memories.