The Little League Majors team wins its first 3 tourney games

by: DAN BROOD - SAFE AT HOME -- Tigard's Ethan Clark is safe at home plate as Cedar Mill catcher Gavid Meader tries to make the tag.PORTLAND — It was a challenge.

And a big one, at that.

After all, across the field, in the other dugout, was the defending district and state champions.

But the Tigard Little League Majors (ages 11-12) all-star baseball team was up to the challenge. And the Tigard team got a big win to show for it.

The Tigard squad picked up an impressive, well-played victory, edging Cedar Mill 4-1 in a District 4 Tournament pool play game played Sunday at Alpenrose Dairy.

“This is pretty big,” Tigard first baseman Fletcher Ahl said after the game. “They’re the defending champs and we came in as the underdogs.”

“Everyone said that they’ll hit the ball over the fence,” said Tigard’s Cooper Justice, who was the winning pitcher in Sunday’s game. “But we were able to pitch around them, let them hit it to our defense and make outs.”

With the victory, Tigard improved to 2-0 in tourney pool play games to that point.

“We’re happy with that,” Tigard manager Derek Heyden said. “I’m really proud of how our guys stepped up.”

Sunday’s game was first of the tournament for Cedar Mill, whose team includes many of the same players that won the District 4 and Oregon State titles last year at the ages 10-11 level.

And, going against such a talented team, Tigard was ready to take advantage of every opportunity it had.

by: DAN BROOD - JUSTICE PREVAILS -- Tigard's Cooper Justice gets ready to unleash a pitch during the team's 4-1 win over Cedar Mill Sunday at the District 4 tournament.Tigard’s first opportunity came in the bottom of the first inning. Ahl got things going with a two-out single to left field. Justice, the next batter for Tigard, struck out, but he was able to reach base on a passed ball on the third strike. Ahl, sprinting around the bases, was able to score on a Cedar Mill throwing error on the play giving Tigard an early 1-0 lead.

Tigard was able to score another clutch, two-out run in the bottom of the second inning.

Bryce Goetz started things up with a one-out infield single. Then, with two outs in the frame, Kade Wisher doubled to the fence in left-center field, driving in Goetz to give Tigard a 2-0 lead.

Tigard kept its offense rolling in the bottom of the third inning.

Ethan Clark doubled to right-center field to lead off the inning. Then, with two outs in the frame, Clark scored on Joey Gatto’s single to left, making the score 3-0.

Gatto, who moved all the way to third base on a Cedar Mill throwing error on the play, then cam home on Graham Oelke’s single down the right-field line, pushing the Tigard lead to 4-0.

Cedar Mill cut the lead to 4-1 in the top of the fourth inning on an RBI single by Ethan Wilson. The damage in the inning could have been worse if it wasn’t for a key defensive play by Justice. With one out, and the bases loaded, Cedar Mills’s Brant Campanian hit a hard shot up the middle. Justice knocked the ball down, ran over, picked it up and threw a strike to catcher Nathan Ibarra for a force out at the plate.

“He kept his composure and made a great play,” Heyden said.

Ahl, taking the mound in relief, then shut down Cedar Mill over the final two frames to preserve the 4-1 victory.

“This is awesome,” Ahl said of the win and Tigard’s 2-0 start to the tournament. “It’s exciting.”

Justice, pitching the first four innings of Sunday’s game, allowed one run on four hits while striking out two and walking three. Ahl, in his two shutout innings of work, allowed two hits while striking out three and walking none on his way to getting his second save of the DAN BROOD - MAKING THE PLAY -- Tigard shortstop Jack Heyden fires a throw to first base during the team's 4-1 win over Cedar Mill.

Tigard also got strong defensive play in the contest, including a spectacular backhand snag and strong throw from deep in the hole by shortstop Jack Heyden.

“I know I have strong defense behind me,” Justice said.

Tigard, as a team, had six hits in the contest, one each by Ahl, Goetz, Wisher, Clark, Gatto and Oelke.

Tigard opened tourney play Saturday with a 5-3 win over Lake Oswego.

Clark picked up the pitching win, going an efficient five and a third innings. Ahl struck out two batters in relief to get the save.

Justice had the big hit of the game for Tigard, with a two-run double that gave his team a 4-3 lead.

On Tuesday, Tigard moved to 3-0 in tourney pool play by getting a 6-5, seven-inning win over Beaverton Aloha.

Jacob Isaac's infield single drove in Ahl with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning of that game.

Justice had three hits in the win while Gatto and Ibarra added to the offensive attack.

by: DAN BROOD - BIG PLAY -- Tigard catcher Nathan Ibarra grabs the ball to force out Cedar Mill's Ryan Ready at the plate during Sunday's District 4 Majors tournament game.Oelke started on the mound for Tigard and worked the first three innings. Jack Heyden pitched the next two innings and Ahl held Beaverton scoreless over the final two frames to get the win.

With that victory, Tigard clinched a spot in the tourney semifinals.

Tigard will finish pool play competition today (Thursday) when it faces Southwest Portland at 7:30 p.m.

The tourney semifinals are slated for 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. The tournament championship game will be played Sunday at 1 p.m.

The District 4 champion will advance to play at the Oregon State Tournament, which starts July 18 at Alpenrose Stadium.

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