Clutch plays lift Titans to second in holiday tourney
The Lakeridge Titans, like virtually every other American Legion baseball team in Oregon, could use about five or six more pitchers.
The Titans were already a little thin on pitching when they headed into Tuesday night's championship game in Lakeridge's Firecracker Classic. Since human cloning has not yet been perfected, there was no chance that Lakeridge could use Brandon Davis one day after his masterful pitching performance helped get the Titans to the title game.
So, head coach Allan Coyle was forced to go with five relatively inexperienced pitchers (at least at the legion level) in the championship game against Southridge. The result was not all that surprising as the hard-hitting Skyhawks pounded their way to an 18-6 victory in five innings.
'We couldn't keep (Southridge) off of the base paths, and we walked a lot of guys,' Coyle said. 'When you've got guys that aren't normally pitchers and you throw them into a championship game against a great team, it was tough for them. It would have been a gutsy performance for one of those freshmen or sophomore (pitchers) to shut down a team like Southridge.'
Realizing that he was asking a lot of his young hurlers, Coyle wasn't afraid to make quick pitching changes Tuesday night so that no one would have to bear too much of the pounding that Southridge was dishing out.
'I don't want anyone to give up 8-10 runs in an outing and then be down on pitching (later in the season),' the coach said.
Forced to play catch-up all night long, Lakeridge's offense managed to keep the game close for a while. In fact, the score was 4-4 after one inning and 10-6 through three innings.
Jake Gregory had the key hit in the first when his two-run single tied the game. Then in the third, Jeff Doppelt got a one-out single and scored moments later on Steven Swinford's double down the left field line. Gregory followed with an RBI single that made it 10-6.
Any chance that Lakeridge had for a comeback was virtually eliminated in the fourth inning when Southridge struck for eight runs. The Skyhawks did it all in that inning, including a bases-loaded walk, a two-run double and a three-run triple. By then, the Titans had little chance of making a comeback.
The highlight of the tournament for Lakeridge came Monday against Reynolds. After spotting the Raiders two unearned runs in the first, the left-handed Davis turned in a brilliant performance on the mound. His breaking pitches were especially effective, which made his fastball seem even faster than normal.
On offense, shortstop Jeff Doppelt got the Titans' first run when he drilled a home run to left in the second inning. That cut Reynolds' lead to 2-1. But the Raiders got that run back with an RBI single in the third
Lakeridge then tied the game in the bottom of the third with a two-out, two-run double by Grant Force, scoring Eric Hillier and Ben Janal ahead of him. The Titans took the lead for good when Janal singled home Hillier in the bottom of the fifth.
After having lost to Sandy by a 14-10 score in the second round of pool play, Lakeridge needed to beat Reynolds by at least five runs to have any chance of advancing to Tuesday's championship game. The chance of that happening seemed rather slim for a while as the Titans had their hands full with Reynolds' top pitcher.
But Lakeridge finally broke through for the four runs it needed in the sixth inning. And it all happened with two outs. Gregory started things off with a walk, then Rob Bliven was hit by a pitch and Hillier followed with another walk to load the bases. Janal then pushed Lakeridge's lead to 5-3 with an RBI single.
Moments later, with the bases still loaded, Force bounced a single through the hole between shortshop and third base. Normally, such a hit in that situation would score one, maybe two runners. But Janal pulled off one of the most unlikely events in baseball when he scored from first on Force's single.
Realizing the situation Lakeridge faced, Janal got an early jump on Force's hit and was on Hillier's heels when the two runners rounded third base. Janal managed to beat the throw to home by two steps, giving Force a rare three-run single. More importantly, it gave the Titans an 8-3 lead.
That's the way the game ended after Davis sent Reynolds down in order in the seventh.
That victory left Lakeridge, Reynolds and Sandy all tied for first place in their pool with 2-1 records. The tiebreaker was the fewest runs allowed during pool play. That eliminated Sandy but Lakeridge and Reynolds were still tied. Then it came down to head-to-head play, which gave the nod to Lakeridge.
It's now back to league play for the Titans and their biggest game of the year could be tonight's contest against Lake Oswego, which is undefeated in league. That game will be played at Lake Oswego at 5 p.m. The teams also met last Wednesday in a game the Lakers won 8-1.