The Lakeridge baseball team never stopped believing.
The seventh-seeded Pacers, hosting Central Catholic in the Class 6A state quarterfinals on Friday, May 24, had fought their way out of the Three Rivers League cellar this year and had no intention of stopping on Friday.
But No. 15 Central Catholic's players believed, too.
In the end, the Rams rallied from a one-run deficit to tie the game in the fifth inning, pushed ahead in the sixth, then added three more runs in the top of the seventh to beat the Pacers 6-3 at Lakeridge High School.
"Baseball's just like that — some days it happens and it works for you and some days it doesn't," said Lakeridge junior Brian Hamlin, who went 1 for 3 against the Rams. "Today was one of those days when (Central Catholic pitcher Christian) Cooney showed up to play. It happens."
"Cooney mixed it up well," said Lake Oswego junior third baseman John Taylor. "We got on him the first inning, but just couldn't get them around. What (Cooney) does good is he can hit his spots and keep you guessing."
The loss snapped the Pacers' nine-game winning streak and ended their 2019 season at 20-10 overall after finishing fourth in the Three Rivers race. Central Catholic, meanwhile, won for the seventh straight time, improved to 20-10 overall and advanced to face third-seeded Clackamas in the state semifinals on Tuesday, May 28.
Despite the loss, the Pacers left proud of the incredible turnaround the program made this season under the leadership of first-year coach D.J. Whittemore.
After going just 5-29 in TRL play and 10-47 overall the previous two years, Lakeridge came back strong in 2019.
"It was how we worked," said Lakeridge sophomore shortstop Cam Clayton, who went 2 for 2 at the plate against Central Catholic. "Our first practice was August 31st — that's why it hurts so bad because we poured our hearts and souls into this for nine straight months to get this far."
"I've got to give all the credit to our coaches," said Lakeridge senior second baseman Hayden Moore, who also pitched the final two outs of the seventh inning. "Every single one of our players bought into what they were preaching and it paid off."
Lakeridge junior starter Spencer Santana kept the Rams at bay most of the way on Friday, allowing just a single run in the game's first four innings, a start that gave the Pacers a chance to grab the early lead.
While Lakeridge wasted back-to-back singles by Colin Hardy and Clayton in the bottom of the first, they came back to grab a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third. After Central got a sacrifice fly by Jaden Fulsher in the top of the second, the Pacers loaded the bases with one out, then got a two-run single to center field by junior Trent Allen.
Central Catholic rallied to tie the game in the fifth when Jackson Elder led off with a home run to center field, then pushed ahead 3-2 in the sixth on two Lakeridge errors, a hit batter and a bases-loaded walk by Carson Lamprecht that ended Santana's day.
The Rams then sealed their win in the seventh, getting two runners aboard on a Lakeridge error and a hit batter, then seeing Cooney homer to right-center field off Hardy to boost Central's lead to 6-2.
Lakeridge, which stranded seven runners in the game, kept playing, though, getting one run off Rams' reliever Dylan MacLean when Hardy was hit by a pitch, Moore doubled to center and Hardy scored on Taylor's groundout.
As disappointed as they were by the loss, the Pacers chose instead to focus on the great improvement and inroads the team had made over the previous year.
"Coming back, we hoped to be a .500 team this year, but we came back and put some numbers on the board. It's a great feeling," Clayton said. "I can't remember the last time the team did something like this."
"Just the work we put in behind the scenes and grinding with the boys every day was what made it fun and made it a lot different this year," Hamlin said.
"It wasn't hard. We were all motivated to play the game we love," Moore added. "Obviously, you can tell this is pretty much everyone's favorite sport."
For the game, Santana threw 5 1/3 innings and allowed three runs (two earned) on two hits and three walks while striking out four. Clayton was the only player in the game with more than one hit. Cooney went six innings for Central, giving up two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out 11.
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