The Lakeridge baseball team put another notch in its gun belt on Sunday, June 30.
A big one.
The Pacers had already shucked off the misery of their difficult 2017-18 seasons, battled back into contention in the Three Rivers League and advanced all the way to Class 6A state quarterfinals in the 2019 spring season.
On Sunday, Lakeridge capped its four-game run through the 2019 Firecracker Classic — this year marked the tournament's 25th anniversary — by coming back from six runs down to beat Jesuit 9-7 in the Firecracker finale. After a rainout on Thursday, June 27, the Pacers beat Sunset 2-0 on Friday, June 28, beat West Linn 4-3 and Grant 3-2 on Saturday, June 29, and then rallied past Jesuit on Sunday.
"I played in the Firecracker as an eighth-grader — I just pitched a few innings — and every year that I got older, I realized just how important this is for the program," said Lakeridge catcher pitcher Colin Hardy, who went 1 for 2 with one RBI, one run scored and two walks, and also pitched a perfect seventh inning to get a save against Jesuit. "It's honestly my favorite time of the year."
According to Pacer center fielder Shaun Leib, an incoming senior, the team's perseverance was key to its success.
"I feel like we never took an inning off," said Leib, who went 2 for 4 with one RBI, two runs scored and two walks. "We had two walk-offs this tournament and I feel like we always stayed in it. We always felt like we had a chance to win this."
Lakeridge pitcher Joey Shafer, an incoming junior, also played a huge role in the team's win over Jesuit, pitching three scoreless innings that gave the Pacers time to finally ignite their offense.
"I was just able to locate my pitches today and they weren't able to hit them," said Shafer, who threw three innings and allowed no runs on two hits and no walks while striking out three to get the win. "(Starter John Taylor) throws harder than me so I came in with a little slower velocity and it threw them off."
Lakeridge 9, Jesuit 7: The Pacers may have ended up on top, but Jesuit held the upper hand early on Sunday. The Crusaders — their spring team won the Class 6A state title — poured across four runs in the bottom of the first inning, then tacked on three more in the third to lead 7-1.
Jesuit's Connor Kollas and Luke Spitznagel knocked in two runs each in the first inning, while Kollas singled home another in the third and Gavin Meader's ensuing hit brought home two more to end Taylor's day on the mound.
The Pacers began their comeback in the top of the fourth when Owen Brown's single to right field drove in two runs, then continued in the fifth when Hardy hit an RBI double to right.
Still trailing by three runs, the Pacers then poured across four in the sixth to grab an 8-7 edge, getting an RBI single by Leib, seeing two score on a Jesuit error and the fourth come home on Michael Brannon Jr.'s bases-loaded walk.
Lakeridge added an insurance run in the seventh when Shafer and A.J. Russell both singled, and Taylor added a sacrifice fly for the final 9-7 margin.
"I thought it was over (when Jesuit led 7-1), honestly," Hardy said. "But Joey stepped up and gave us a shot to come back in the last four innings."
"I was just thinking 'Keep this lead as small as we can make it,'" Shafer said. "They already had seven — I wasn't going to let them get any more."
Lakeridge 3, Grant 2: In their second Saturday game, the Pacers trailed 2-0 after three innings, then tied the contest in the fourth and won it in the bottom of the seventh when Leib walked with one out and scored when Taylor followed with a double to the center field fence.
In Lakeridge's two-run fourth, Russell knocked in his team's first run with a double to center and Taylor added an RBI single to right to make it 2-2.
For the game, Taylor went 2 for 4 with two RBIs, while Will Owen threw seven innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) on seven hits and three walks while striking out four.
Lakeridge 4, West Linn 3: The Pacers got their Saturday started with a flourish, rallying from a 3-1 deficit in the bottom of the eighth inning to win 4-3, getting four hits to score three runs and dump the Lions, the reigning TRL champions.
After West Linn scored twice in the top of the eighth — Kace Naone hit an RBI double and later scored on a wild pitch — the Pacers rallied in their half of the frame. There, A.J. Russell led off with a double, Leib singled to chase WL starter Sam Russell, and facing West Linn's Jonathan Kelly — the TRL Pitcher of the Year and a first-team all-state pick — Mac Elske followed with a run-scoring groundout, Hardy hit an RBI double to left and Brannon singled to right to bring home the final runs.
"After we beat West Linn, I was like 'If we beat that team, we can beat anyone,' so I just kind of took that mentality into today," Shafer said. "When we hit that walk-off off (Kelly), we knew we could hit anybody."
For the game, Hardy went 2 for 3 with one RBI and one run, while Elske threw all eight innings for the Pacers, allowing three runs on 11 hits and one walk while striking out 10. Colin Driscoll led West Linn with three hits and one RBI, while Kelly and Naone added two hits each in the loss.
Lakeridge 2, Sunset 0: In its tournament opener, Lakeridge's A.J. Russell was solid on the mound, limiting the Apollos to no runs on three hits and two walks while striking out six.
On offense, the Pacers got both their runs in the fifth when Leib walked, stole second and scored on Taylor's single to center. Then, after a Hardy bunt, Brannon hit a sacrifice fly to right that plated Taylor with the winning run.
For the game, Taylor went 2 for 4 with one RBI and one run to lead Lakeridge batters.
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