Strike early and strike fast.
The West Linn baseball team took those words to heart in the championship game of the 2017 Firecracker Classic tournament on Sunday, scoring once in the top of the first inning and making that one run stand up to beat Camas, Wash., 1-0 at Lakeridge High School.
Sunday's win gave the team five straight victories in the tournament, beginning with its 16-7 win over Skyview on June 29 and followed by a 6-2 victory over Lower Columbia on Friday, a 6-1 win vs. Aloha on Saturday and a 3-1 victory over Sunset in Sunday's tournament semifinals.
The Lions have now won 11 of their last 15 games and improved to 15-9-1 overall.
The import of their win was not lost on the Lions
"I think it's a big deal because we are starting to come together as a team," said West Linn center fielder Garrett Marioni, who went 2 for 3 at the plate and drove in the game's lone run against Camas. "We have the underclassmen coming up to varsity for the first time and kind of getting to know each other. It's a big deal coming together."
"It's a huge advantage for next spring because we've got to figure out now where guys are going to play and what guys' roles are before going into the season. ... It's a big deal," said shortstop James Marshall, who scored the winning run against Camas.
Nowhere is the summer game more important for the Lions than for its pitching staff. After graduating All-Three Rivers League pitchers Tim Tawa, Garrison Ritter, Ryan Driscoll and Rance Pittman, the door is open for newcomers, and Caleb Franzen announced on Sunday that he's ready to cross the threshold.
Against Camas, Franzen threw a complete game five-hitter with no walks and nine strikeouts.
"We've got a lot of new opportunities because our three (2017) starting pitchers are gone now," Franzen said. "This summer is kind of the time for the younger pitchers who didn't pitch as much last year. They get their shot now to prove what they can do."
Franzen proved it big-time on Sunday, striking out two batters in three different innings and allowing just three baserunners in the game's first five innings.
"The last couple of times (I pitched), I've been struggling to keep it in the zone and get ahead early so I wanted to get ahead early by keeping it low, and luckily, that worked and we got grounders and fly balls," Franzen said. "My stuff was 'on' today and my team had my back."
Offensively, the Lions pushed across the game's lone run in their first at-bat of the championship. Marshall led off with a walk from Camas pitcher Jake Taylor, took second on a wild pitch, third on a Griffin Banta bunt and scored when Marioni singled to center field.
Franzen made sure that run stood up, never allowing more than two baserunners in an inning and never allowing a Camas player to advance farther than second base the entire game.
"I think we played good defense and had a good day on the mound," Marioni said.
To be fair, the Lions struggled against Taylor, too, managing just single baserunners in each of final next six at-bats and pushing just two of those as far as second base. For the game, Taylor held West Linn to five hits, two walks and one hit batter while striking out two.
"We found a way to get across one run in the first inning, but we didn't manage to do any more," Franzen said.
"Their pitcher was good so I was just glad to get on with the walk in that first inning," Marshall said.
Camas' last, best chances to score came in the sixth and seventh innings. In the sixth, Camas got a one-out single from Josh Mansur and a two-out hit by Sam Malychewski, but Franzen struck out Semisi Schultz to end that threat.
And in the seventh, Caleb Field led off with a single to left, took second on a Jacob Trupp bunt, but then got thrown out by Franzen after Franzen snared a sharp chopper back up the middle. He then notched another strikeout to end the game.
"Garrett (Marioni) was doing a great job in the outfield tracking down some balls we needed, and James (Marshall) was making some great plays, too," Franzen said. "Overall, it was a great team effort."
Marioni said that his team's attention to small details made a big difference on Sunday.
"All the small ball mattered and that came through in the end," he said. "The one run we scored in the first inning made a big difference."
Catcher Justin Hoover also went 2 for 3 for West Linn in its win. Five different Camas players had singles in the loss. Hoover was honored as the tournament's top hitter, while Franzen was named MVP of the championship.