The West Linn 12U all-stars showed that they belonged among the best at the 2017 Cal Ripken World Series.
West Linn, battling 23 of the best 12U teams from around the world at the Ballparks of America complex in Branson, Missouri., raced out to an impressive 3-0 start and won its pool, then saw its tournament end in Monday's tournament quarterfinals.
The Lions — who previously won the Pacific Northwest Regional to earn their first World Series berth in 10 years — opened the Series with a 10-5 win over North Dakota on Aug. 3, made it two in a row with a 4-2 victory over North Arkansas on Friday, then concluded their pool play success with a 3-1 win over Ohio Valley on Saturday.
That gave West Linn a berth in Monday's tournament quarterfinals where the team matched up against Colorado, which tied for first place but took the third berth from its four-team pool. Colorado, which had to win twice after pool play to reach the quarterfinal contest, scored once in the top of the first inning, saw West Linn tie the game in the third, then pushed across two runs in the fourth to fuel its 3-2 victory.
The loss left the Lions as the fifth-best team in the country.
"We left a lot of runners on — that's uncharacteristic of what we did this summer. We just couldn't string hits together," said coach Jared Goff. "But we played well (in the Series). We made a hell of a run."
While disappointed that they hadn't gone even further, West Linn's players reveled in the experience of playing in the World Series.
"It was a great experience in general," said Spencer Sullivan. "Meeting the teams from Japan, Mexico and Korea — the whole thing's been incredible."
"It's been an awesome experience," Jake Holmes agreed. "It's been great to meet guys from all over the world."
And the Lions, despite feeling that they could have gone all the way, chose to focus on the positive nature of their summer experience as a whole rather than their final loss.
"Being able to say we played in the World Series because we worked hard enough to make it here is cool," said Seve Gonzales. "It's been a super fun summer. It's a great experience for us in general and for us as a team."
The team also includes players Drake Gabel, Ethan Goff, Jordan Tawa, Maxwell Wright, Tyson Smith, Benjamin Winjum, Earl Ingle, Andrew Talavs and Braylon Cornell, and coaches Don Gabel and Sean Sullivan.
West Linn 10, North Dakota 5
In its opening win over North Dakota, West Linn banged out 19 hits and used a late outburst to score nine runs in its final two at-bats. Further, pitchers Talavs, Tawa and Gabel teamed up on a four-hitter, with Talavs throwing three innings, allowing two runs on one hit and four walks while striking out six.
Gabel and Goff led the Lions' potent hitting attack, with Gabel going 3 for 4 with two stolen bases, and Goff 3 for 4 with a double, two RBIs and one run scored. Five other players — Sullivan, Tawa, Cornell, Holmes and Wright — all went 2 for 3, with Holmes collecting three RBIs in the win.
West Linn 4, North Arkansas 2
In the win over North Arkansas, West Linn rallied to break open a 2-2 tie and win with two runs in the top of the sixth inning.
In that decisive sixth, Gabel led off with a single, Goff walked and both runners advanced on Tawa's bunt. Next batter Sullivan was walked intentionally to load the bases, Cornell was hit by a pitch to plate Gabel, and Goff then scored on a wild pitch with Holmes at the plate for the final 4-2 margin.
Pitchers Gabel and Ingle teamed up on a no-hitter, with Gabel throwing four innings and allowing two unearned runs on no hits and four walks with five strikeouts, while Ingle gave up no runs on no hits and no walks with four strikeouts in two innings.
West Linn had just six hits in this game, with Holmes going 2 for 2 with a homer, a single, two RBIs and one run scored, and Gabel going 2 for 3 and scoring once.
West Linn 3, Ohio Valley 1
The Lions then capped their pool play success with a 3-1 win over Ohio Valley fueled by Sullivan's shutdown pitching performance. Sullivan pitched 5 2/3 innings before giving way to Tawa for the final out, allowing just one unearned run on two hits and two walks while striking out five.
Offensively, West Linn scored once in the bottom of the first, then boosted its lead to 3-0 with a pair of runs in the fourth before Ohio Valley got its lone run in the fifth.
Gabel got things started in the first with a single, advanced on Goff's groundout and scored on Tawa's single for a 1-0 edge. Then, in the fourth, Sullivan singled with one out and scored when Holmes doubled to make it 2-0. Holmes scored later on a passed ball with Cornell at the plate for a three-run lead.
Tawa and Holmes both went 1 for 2 with one RBI in the victory.
Colorado 3, West Linn 2
West Linn was solid in its tournament finale, too, outhitting Colorado 8-6 but failing to capitalize on enough of its opportunities to win.
"We just didn't come out to play," Ethan Goff said. "If we'd come out to play and our bats were alive, we could have done something amazing."
"I just don't think we showed up that game, but that's baseball," Sullivan said. "Still, being fifth in the country is pretty cool."
Colorado grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but West Linn tied the game at 1-1 in the third when Goff singled, stole second and third, and scored on Cornell's single.
But Colorado scored twice in the top of the fourth to take a lead it would not relinquish. Jaxon Riley-Combs scored the first of those when he singled, stole second and came home on Zane Pavelko's hit off Talavs. Then, after Ingle struck out the first two batters he faced in relief, Pavelko scored when Zachary Zatz doubled.
West Linn got one of those runs back in the fifth when Sullivan singled, moved to third on a Cornell hit and scored on a wild pitch, but the Lions got no closer.