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The Lions sprint out to a 5-0 lead, then hold on as the Pacers rally late in the game.

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - West Linn senior Spencer Sullivan raises his helmet in salute after he hit a three-run home run in the top of the first inning of his team's 5-4 win over Lakeridge in the semifinals of the Class 6A state playoffs at Lakeridge High School on Tuesday, May 31.The Tuesday, May 31, Class 6A state semifinal between the West Linn and Lakeridge baseball teams just about had it all.

A top-four matchup. A battle of league foes. A shocking start. A rare, sunbaked spring afternoon. A record crowd estimated at 2,000. A huge momentum shift and a dramatic finish.

In the end, the No. 4 Lions rode their fast start — they scored four runs in the top of the first inning — a top-notch pitching performance and errorless defense to best the top-ranked Pacers 5-4 at Lakeridge High School.

"We thought we had a solid lead going into the bottom of the … sixth, but we held on, stuck to our fundamentals and got the job done," said West Linn senior shortstop Kace Naone, who went 2 for 4 at the plate with one RBI and one run. "It was definitely a little closer than we'd like to see it, but we're going to the state championship and I couldn't be happier."

"It was a fun game. They're a tough team," said junior Drew Talavs, who picked up the win after throwing 5 2/3 innings and allowing two runs on five hits and no walks while striking out six. "They swept us earlier this year, but we came back and got some revenge."

"Coming back and starting off hot and making a statement after what happened in the regular season was huge," said senior right fielder Spencer Sullivan, who went 2 for 3 with a home run, three RBIs and one run. "It meant everything."

With the win, the team's seventh straight, West Linn improved to 24-7 overall after placing second in the Three Rivers League. Next up, the Lions will face 14th-ranked Canby (19-12 overall after placing third in the TRL) — a 14-9 winner over No. 7 Clackamas on Tuesday — in the 6A state championship at 5 p.m. Saturday, June 4, at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.

"It's going to take solid defense like we had and getting the job done when we need to with runners in scoring position," Naone said. "That's kind of been our thing all year — when we do it, we're golden and when we don't, we struggle."

"It's just playing hard, don't step off the gas and keep hitting the ball," Talavs said. "We've just got to go in there with confidence."

Lakeridge, meanwhile, saw its 12-game winning streak snapped and ended its year at 25-6 overall after winning the Three Rivers League.

"They came out hot. We weren't expecting that. We beat them three times this year," said Lakeridge junior shortstop Dawson Santana, who went 2 for 4 at the plate with one run scored. "We were kind of shocked and we didn't know what was going on, but we came back and put it together late in the game. We just came up short."

"We wanted to win it more than anybody. We had the guys," said Lakeridge junior first baseman Paul Wilson, who went 2 for 4 at the plate with two RBIs and one run. "We were down for a while, but the game's never over until the final out … in the seventh inning."

West Linn started fast Tuesday, with junior leadoff hitter Drake Gabel being hit by a pitch and senior Jeremy Levasseur following with a walk off Lakeridge senior starter Zach Johnson (he threw four innings, allowing five runs on five hits and two walks while striking out six).

Johnson got the first out, but then saw Naone hit an RBI single to left field and Sullivan come through with a three-run homer over the right-field fence to make it 4-0.

"He started me with two sliders, but after that, I was expecting fastball and he gave me one middle in and I just took it for a ride," Sullivan said. "I couldn't feel it off the bat so that's always a good feeling. I looked up and I saw it going into the trees and I could hear the crowd behind me and that was a good feeling."

Johnson settled in to throw scoreless second and third innings, while Talavs was even better, allowing just two hits and two baserunners through the game's first five innings. But in the top of the fourth, West Linn sophomore Gabe Howard and senior Barret Brundage hit back-to-back one-out singles, and with two outs, Howard scored on a wild pitch to boost his team's lead to 5-0.

The Pacers, however, were not done. In the bottom of the sixth, Santana singled to left with one out, then scored when Wilson doubled down the left field line with two outs. Senior Mason Utech came through next, singling to right to plate Wilson before Gabel came on in relief of Talavs to get the final out of the frame.

Then, in the seventh, Pacer junior Jack Ulwelling led off with a walk and moved to third when Santana singled to right-center. Johnson followed with an RBI single to right and Wilson knocked in Santana with a fielder's choice before Gabel finally ended the game with a strikeout.

"We just used (the fast start) to make a statement, to come back hotter than ever and show them that we meant business," Sullivan said.

Lakeridge, meanwhile, took a moment to cherish its stellar season.

"I feel like we had the most heart of anybody — any team, any player, any coach — in the state," Wilson said. "Every single one of our guys gave 100%. They all showed up ready to work and we were ready to take it."

Utech finished 2 for 4 at the plate with one RBI, while junior Eric Hoffberg threw the final three innings for Lakeridge, allowing no runs on two hits and no walks while striking out three.

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