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Living the Dream - A Summer to remember for LO Stars

Lake Oswego's Little League all-stars cap an incredible season by advancing to the World Series quarterfinals
by: John Sanders, 
The Lake Oswego Little League all-star team had a number of players assume starring roles for the team during the last month. One of those was Levi Rudolph, who threw a no-hitter in the state championship game and then silenced a dangerous Washington team in the regional final. He followed with another sensational effort in Lake Oswego’s World Series win over Ohio last week. Also playing a big role was Reid Penney, who hit a game-winning home run against Massachusetts. Team members salute their fans after losing to Texas.

We now know that the Lake Oswego all-stars are one of the top four Little League teams in the nation, and they're one of the eight best in the world.

That much became certain last Tuesday when Lake Oswego's never-say-die all-star team beat Ohio and advanced to the U.S. semifinals of the Little League World Series.

Never mind the fact that Lake Oswego's incredible run ended there, after a disappointing 8-2 loss to Texas on Thursday. At the beginning of the summer, even those who are closely connected to the team never imagined that anything like this would happen.

'When we announced the team (in June), if anybody told you we would wind up third in the nation, they'd be kidding you,' Lake Oswego manager Craig Ramey said after looking back at what his team had accomplished.

Ramey figured his team had a good chance to win the District 4 championship this year. But even that was far from a certainty. That's because District 4 also is home to Beaverton's Murrayhill team, which has virtually owned the district and state titles over most of the last decade.

But Murrayhill, which advanced to the U.S. final of the Little League World Series last year, didn't make it past the district semifinals this year. Murrayhill ran into a strong Tigard team, and then Lake Oswego beat Tigard 12-3 to win the district crown.

At that point, Ramey seriously believed that a state title was within reach. But that proved to be difficult as well. After an opening-round loss to Centennial, the Lakers faced nothing but must-win games for the rest of the tournament.

And Lake Oswego won all of those games, including an impressive 7-0 victory over a highly-touted Pendleton team. That game featured a no-hitter by 5-foot-3 Levi Rudolph. He was just a sixth-inning walk away from a perfect game.

That victory moved Lake Oswego into the Northwest regional, where the Lakers were considered clear underdogs to tournament favorite Washington - a team that many people believed was good enough to win a World Series championship.

There was good reason to fear the Washington all-stars. Through their first five games of the regional tournament, they belted 17 home runs and logged a .536 batting average while out-scoring their opponents by a 75-7 margin.

The Oregon champs, on the other hand, lost two of their first three games, which set up a series of must-win games the rest of the way.

Lake Oswego responded by beating Montana 11-2 to advance out of pool play. Then, in the regional semifinal, the Lakers trailed Idaho 8-3 heading into the fifth inning. But Lake Oswego broke loose for 13 runs in that inning and won going away.

In the regional final, the Lakers scored a 6-2 victory over Washington, the supposed best team in the region. Lake Oswego did it with another great pitching performance by Rudolph, plus a pair of home runs by Brennan Malagamba and a three-run shot by Calvin Hermanson.

Everything after that was just gravy, but the Lakers won two more times at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

There was a 1-0 victory over Massachusetts, a game in which Mitch Lomax pitched a two-hitter and Reid Penney homered for the contest's only run. It gave Penney six homers over an eight-game span. Then came a 6-1 victory over Ohio, when Rudolph turned in another brilliant pitching performance and Austin Andrews led the way with a lead-off homer.

Both of those World Series wins came in must-win games, which was fitting since Lake Oswego often found itself in those situations. And they delivered virtually every time.

According to Ramey's count, the Lakers played in a must-win game twice at district, five times at state, three times at regionals and twice in Williamsport. And the Lakers won every one of those games before bowing out with a loss to Texas.

'We just didn't know what it was to pack it in,' Ramey said.

But, how is it even possible for a group of 12-year-olds to deliver under pressure that often?

'I think it was team chemistry and a coaching philosophy … that we weren't going to look ahead,' Ramey said. 'And we always talked to our kids about being mentally tough.'

Lake Oswego entered the World Series with the worst record (at 14-4) among the eight U.S. entrants. So, the national media didn't give the Lakers much of a chance to do anything in Williamsport.

Instead, the Lakers became media darlings after they beat Massachusetts before a network television audience. Suddenly, people all over the nation were getting on Lake Oswego's bandwagon.

After returning home on Monday, Ramey said the whole experience was just beginning to sink in.

'It was an unbelievable time,' he said. 'It's sort of like spending time at Disneyland and each time you go it gets better and better.'

Including the time spent at the Northwest regional, which was held in San Bernardino, Calif., Ramey and his team were on the road for 26 consecutive days.

'That's a long time to be gone, but I'd do it again,' the coach said.

Life is returning to normal now that everyone is back home again. For Ramey, that means trying to catch up on a month's worth of work at Regency Centers, which owns, develops and manages shopping centers around the nation.

For his first day back on the job, Ramey found a decorated office and a host of co-workers ready to celebrate the Lakers' success. But Ramey didn't spend too much time celebrating.

By the end of the work day, he was back in the coaching mode. But this time he was coaching his son's seventh and eighth-grade football team, a squad that is headed by former pro bowl quarterback Neil Lomax.

The way things are going, they might want to clear their calendars once the playoffs roll around.