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Youngsters play major role for Legion team

The West Linn American Legion baseball program could be in good hands for a while.

The team played without some of its 'older' star players in Tuesday night's doubleheader against Tualatin. It hardly seemed to matter, though, as a strong contingent of freshmen and sophomores stepped up and filled the void rather nicely.

Those youngsters did have a bit of a tough time in the field in the first game, when a slew of errors led to eight unearned runs en route to a 10-2 victory for Tualatin.

The nightcap was a much different story, however. That game turned into a one-sided slugfest as the Lions pounded the ball all over the park. It's a good thing the 10-run mercy rule is used in Legion ball. Otherwise, that game might still be going. As it was, West Linn clubbed its way to a 15-5 victory in five innings.

Tuesday night's split left West Linn with a 4-1 league record this summer. That would seemingly be good enough to put the Lions in first place, although no one seems to know where the other teams in the league stand.

'We'll take a split,' West Linn coach Mike Lord said after Tuesday's marathon doubleheader. 'We're still 4-1 in league, so that's pretty good.'

Ideally, West Linn would still like to be undefeated in league play. But that would have been a difficult task, at best, considering the effort that Tualatin pitcher Mitchell Lambson registered in the first contest.

The lefty hurler was difficult to hit, although West Linn's Alex Edwards did slug a solo home run off of Lambson in the first inning. Lambson then cruised through the next five innings before giving up a pair of walks and a run-scoring single to Mitch Bailey in the seventh.

Lord countered in that game with senior Cameron Gaulke, who was West Linn's closer during the high school season until he pulled a muscle in the back of his shoulder. Gaulke looked OK on Tuesday, but he didn't get much help from his defense.

Trouble started in the second inning when Tualatin benefited from a fielding error and a throwing error that scored two runs. In the third, a passed ball put Lambson in scoring position and then he came home on a fielder's choice.

If the Lions could have stopped the bleeding there, they might have had a chance later on. Then came the dreaded fifth inning. Tualatin scored its first run of the inning on an errant throw to the plate. Then a throwing error scored two more runners. West Linn committed three errors in that frame and should have been out of the inning by the time John Grill came to bat. He promptly ripped a two-run homer to give Tualatin an 8-1 lead.

Mounting any kind of rally against Lambson at that point might have been too much to ask.

Afterward, Lord took the loss in stride.

'One of the tough things with the summer (season) is trying to get the kids ready to roll every time,' the coach said. 'But we came back and got a win (in the second game).'

Getting a win hardly describes what happened in the nightcap.

It was a game that featured two unusual double plays by the Lions. On offense, it looked like extended batting practice as West Linn strung together 14 hits and drew eight walks. On defense, a young infield that featured three freshmen played almost error-free ball and Spencer Flores did a very commendable job on the mound. Then, as if to add a little spice, Tualatin had its coach and one of its players ejected from the contest.

Maybe Tualatin used up the last of its good pitchers when Lambson shut West Linn down in the first game. The Lions didn't have much trouble with the three hurlers who split the four-plus innings in the second game.

'I think they used their one good pitcher in the first game,' Lord said.

West Linn almost blew the second game open in the first inning.

That stanza started with a walk by Edwards and an infield single by Gaulke. Then, Bailey ripped a one-out double to score Edwards. Moments later, a dropped fly ball scored Gaulke and the Lions had the lead for good at 2-1. But the game was really just heating up at that point.

The Lions then drew four consecutive walks (to Brenton Spickerman, Joe Offer, Justin Williams and Kyle Connolly), and three of those walks forced in runs, which pushed West Linn's lead to 5-1.

Tualatin then changed pitchers, from Brian Singer to Phil Lancaster, and the latter induced a double-play ground ball to end the inning.

West Linn added one more run to its lead in the second when Spickerman singled home Ryan Barnes. But Tualatin got new life in the third with an RBI double by B.J. Stanners and a three-run homer by Grill, his second round-tripper of the night, which trimmed West Linn's lead to 6-5.

The Lions then blew the game wide open in the fourth. RBI singles by Spickerman and Offer, plus a run-scoring error made it 9-5. Then, Kyle Connolly ripped a double to score Offer and Justin Williams, who walked moments earlier.

Seconds later, the Tualatin coach began arguing some supposed missed calls by the plate umpire and the ump responded by tossing the coach from the game.

The fireworks continued when Gaulke tripled to deep center to score Connolly and Edwards (who had walked). Then Gaulke scored on a sacrifice fly by Barnes to make it 14-5.

The game ended without an out being recorded in the fifth. The frame started with a walk to Jimmy Loverro and a double by Offer. Then, as he was pulling up at third on Offer's double, Loverro was knocked to the ground by a forearm shiver from Stanners, the Tualatin third baseman. The base umpire didn't waste any time debating what had happened on the play and immediately sent Stanners to the bench for the rest of the game.

Williams then ended the contest when he singled home Loverro.

In addition to all of the hitting, the Lions also turned two double plays that were anything but ordinary.

The first one, which came in the fourth, started with a line out to right field and a runner on first was doubled off when he left the bag too soon. Then, in the fifth, Tualatin went three-up, three-down despite collecting two singles in the frame. The key this time was an error in centerfield that convinced Zach McPherson to make a run for home, but he was gunned down at the plate, thanks to a good relay throw. On the same play, Lambson was tossed out at third when he tried to stretch a single into a triple.

Those plays were in addition to a good showing by a very young infield. So, the future continues to look bright for the Lions.

'Yeah, I think we're going to be OK,' Lord said.