The Midget National team's season comes to an end on the second day of the state playoffs.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The North Marion Pryde Midget National team celebrates after winning the Clackamas County tournament over top-seeded Tualatin. North Marion went on to play at the state tournament, where they were eliminated in two games and honored with the sportsmanship award. The team consisted of (not in order) Angel Gomez, Daniel Cobb, Deacon Allen, Emilio Estrada, Gabriel Cobb, Isaiah Cobb, Jude Toth, Kaden Henderson, Kaden Levine, Owen Alvord, Pedro Navarro, Ty Groshong and Zach Wheatcroft.An exciting road to the state tournament promptly came to an end for the North Marion Pryde, which won a county title at the Midget National level before losing two playoff games July 11-12 to close out the 2013 season.

The losses were just the second and third for North Marion team, which was comprised mostly of third-graders. They went on to finish the season with a record of 15-3-1 and claim the Clackamas County Junior Baseball Association championship.

“This is only the fifth time in the past 14 years that any North Marion team has done that, so I’m pretty proud of those kids for pulling that off and pulling it together,” coach Kevin Wheatcroft said.

North Marion began the season in April against seven other teams in League 2 of the Midget National division. The team finished its regular season with a record of 12-1-1, the only loss coming on a technicality when Wheatcroft accidentally allowed one of his players to pitch in a game that was rescheduled.

“Pitching is really regulated,” he said. “Pitchers can only pitch nine innings per tournament and three innings per game.”

The league championship gave North Marion the No. 3 seed entering the county tournament in the final weekend of June. North Marion drew No. 6 seed Clackamas (10-3-1) in the first game and won 13-8 to advance to the tournament semifinals, where they faced No. 2 Tualatin (13-1). North Marion had an easier time in the second game, scoring a 13-2 victory to forge a championship game against the top-seeded team, also from Tualatin (13-1).

“We faced them in a tournament earlier in the season and lost 6-3, but we were firing on all cylinders at that point and we played a great come-from-behind win,” Wheatcroft said.

The two teams had already clinched a berth to the state playoffs, but with the county championship on the line, Tualatin and North Marion had a lot on the line in a game that turned into a defensive battle.

North Marion entered the final inning with a 2-1 lead, but the game seemed to fall apart all at once. Wheatcroft’s son Zach was on the mound and gave up a double and a home run to back-to-back batters, giving Tualatin a 3-2 edge.

“Their bench was going crazy and their team was going crazy, but (Zach) maintained composure and struck the next three kids out,” Wheatcroft said.

With three outs left for North MArion, Zach hit a double up the left-field line to open the inning. He went on to score on the next at bat to tie the game at 3-3.

One strikeout later, the next batter hit a bloop single toward the pitcher. Wheatcroft had a player in scoring position on third base and sent him home. The pitcher fielded the ball and threw home, but the catcher dropped the ball and the game was over. North Marion won 4-3.

“It happened just that fast,” Wheatcroft said. “It was just bang, bang, bang.

“It really means a lot to me. This is my seventh year of coaching baseball, and by far that was my happiest moment — when they scored that final run to take the crown.”

With the emotional high from the county championship boosting them, North Marion had a week-and-a-half layoff before the state tournament. Out of 80 teams eligible at the beginning of the season, North Marion was one of 12 teams still playing July 11 at Mooberry Elementary School in Hillsboro.

“We have a really special team, and I tried to communicate that to them over the past week in practice,” Wheatcroft said. “I said, ‘You guys are a special team. You might not ever be on a team that has done what we have done in winning that county championship.’”

But every season comes to an end, and North Marion’s campaign wrapped up July 12 on the second of two losses at the state tournament.

“If the ball doesn’t bounce your way, that’s just the way it is in sports,” Wheatcroft said.

As a final feather in the cap, after the tournament concluded, North Marion was awarded the tournament’s sportsmanship award.

“Even though we didn’t play our best, it feels great to coach the team that demonstrated the best sportsmanship at the tournament,” said Wheatcroft, who told his team before the tournament that the sportsmanship trophy was more important than the state title. “It reflects well on our school and our baseball program to be awarded that distinct honor.”

And while the season did not end the way North Marion may have wanted, the program can always bank on its youth. The Midget league is for third- and fourth-grade children, and only two members of Wheatcroft’s team this year were in fourth grade.

“We have a very young team,” he said. “We just managed to come together at the right time, and that county championship really means a lot to us.”

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