The finale was an all-too-familiar feeling for Murrayhill.
After exorcising demon after demon in the first couple of rounds of the Oregon State Little League tournament, the Murrayhill Major All-Stars made it back through the consolation bracket to the championship game against Sprague. As a group, this was Murrayhill's third straight title appearance, having reached the plateau as 10 and 11-year-olds. It was supposed to be a cathartic coronation that ended with a trip to Southern California. Sadly, the sudden end to a great summer came too soon.
Sprague scored twice in the top of the sixth to reclaim a 9-8 lead. Murrayhill responded by loading the bases with two outs, but couldn't scratch the tying run across in the bottom of the sixth, resulting in a 9-8 state title defeat on July 18 in North Bend.
With that, the Little League careers of these deeply proud, completely united Murrayhill stars came to a close, but what a run it was. For three straight seasons, Murrayhill won District Four, arguably the toughest conference top-to-bottom in the state with the likes of Raleigh Hills, Cedar Mill and Tigard, and reached the title game of their respective age groups each summer. Their winning ways, learning how to deal with defeat, how to stay together when times are tough will springboard these youngsters into the rest of their athletic careers and lives as they move onto whatever lies ahead.
"If you would've gone back five or six years ago and told me the success we were going to have, I'd take it," Murrayhill head coach Jesse Levin said. "It's really about life lessons. If you can compete, bounce back and be resilient, that's going to help you in other sports, that's going to help you in school and jobs down the road. We try to make it about the bigger picture with them. It's not just about Little League baseball. We're playing for a little more here."
Levin was with them each step of the way, coaching them in t-ball and coach pitch, letting the kids play in the summer and become friends at an early age.
"The chemistry with this group is pretty amazing," Levin said. "They play hard for each other. We're a bounce away or a call away from being three-time state champions, so they're fighters. We talk to them about being resilient and coming back adversity and they did that throughout the whole tournament."
Aesthetically, this wasn't your usual group of six-foot Murrayhill man-children with early facial hair and muscles popping out of their jerseys. If any parent asked to see the team's birth certificates, it was only to confirm that Murrayhill's team was indeed all 12 years old, not any younger. But Murrayhill got by on grit, guile and gamesmanship. They knew how to get the best out of their abilities and apply them to the team concept to create a winning atmosphere that produced three state championship game showings. When it came to scrapping, competing and fighting, Murrayhill's heart was bigger than its more physically imposing opponents such as Sprague, which sported three six-footers. Murrayhill wasn't afraid to mix it up with the so-called best. They loved the game and playing it together.
"This group could practice six, seven hours a day if you'd let them, they just wanted to be out there playing," Levin said. "There are a lot of big things in store for this group, no matter what sports they play. They're all studs who understood their roles. Even if they didn't play, they understood. It's a very unselfish group, which we appreciated. The families all got along. It's been a great ride."
Two years ago Murrayhill lost to Rose City in the 10-year-old title game and Bend North as 11-year-olds, but avenged both defeats at the majors level, knocking off each program en route to the title game. Kyle Schmidt pitched a complete game against Bend North to lift Murrayhill from the consolation bracket to the championship matchup in a 6-2 decision. Murrayhill beat Clackamas 12-1 in the first game thanks to an eight-run explosion in the bottom of the third that was highlighted by a Jack Turnbull three-run blast that landed in the trees. Leadoff hitter Landen Sigler went 14-for-20 at the plate, racking up a .700 batting average throughout the tournament. C.J. Sloan was stellar defensively in centerfield and hit the ball well. Rightfielder Sam Vyhlidal was "phenomenal" defensively, taking base hits away from the opposition, making diving catches left and right. Drew Levin was his customary level-headed self on the mound. Murrayhill didn't have the monster who could throw 75 miles an hour or megawatt home run hitters. But its depth was unmatched. Levin didn't have a weak link in his starting lineup, or off the pine.
"Kids sitting on our bench would play on any other team and be one of their top-five players," Levin said. "There wasn't a lot of discrepancy on our roster. We were a deep team without a lot of breaks in our lineup. They might not hit moonshots or throw gas, but they were all very good, fundamentally sound baseball players."
Murrayhill scored four runs in the first inning of the championship clash with Sprague, only to see Sprague score five in the third. Then Murrayhill retook the lead with two runs to make it 6-5. Sprague evened the game at 7-7. Subsequently, Murrayhill's Jaden Meyers came off the bench hit a solo home run in the fifth to go up 8-7 before Sprague took the lead for good.
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