There's no two ways about it — West Linn's J.J. Hoover and Jonathan Kelly are gamers.
They proved it throughout their West Linn baseball careers, they proved it during the 2019 Three Rivers League season and they proved it yet again during the Oregon All-Star Series, held Saturday and Sunday, June 22-23, at Goss Stadium in Corvallis.
In their last two years together as starters on the West Linn varsity team, they helped head coach Joe Monahan's Lions go 26-9 in the Three Rivers League (finishing first both times), 40-19 overall and reach the Class 6A state quarterfinals twice.
With all that history together, it's understandable that Kelly and Hoover didn't want to let the good times end.
So they didn't.
Hoover and Kelly — both graduated seniors — got together one last time on the diamond over the weekend, teaming up on the North team in the annual Oregon All-Star Series. Together, they helped the North team bounce back from a 13-10 opening-game loss on Saturday to beat the South 12-9 on Sunday and walk off with a ton of lifelong memories.
Hoover, a catcher who will play next year at Linn-Benton Community College, batted .375 in the series with two RBIs and two runs scored. He also made 14 putouts and threw out one Souh base stealer.
"This was a fun way to end my high school career, playing with the best players in Oregon and meeting lots of new people," Hoover said. "(And) I played well this weekend. Hit the ball hard and drove in some runs. Gave it my all and that's all I can do."
Kelly, a pitcher and shortstop who will play next year at Xavier University, was solid on the mound, in the field and at the plate. He started the series opener on Saturday, finishing with a no decision after throwing three innings and allowing four runs on five hits and two walks while striking out five.
On Sunday, Kelly got five at-bats, going 1 for 5 with a single and one run scored, and also handling three chances at second base without an error.
"It was an awesome experience and a great way to end my high school career," Kelly said. "I was grateful for the opportunity to play in the games with some of the top players in the state."
In the series opener, it was Kelly throwing to his West Linn battery-mate Hoover behind the plate. Kelly gave up one run in the top of the first, then saw his Oregon team pull ahead 3-1 on a three-run homer by C.J. Rivers in the bottom of the frame.
After the South used two doubles, a North error and a mishandled double steal to edge ahead 4-3 in the top of the third, the North tacked on two runs — thanks in part to a Hoover single — to end Kelly's three-inning stint with a 5-4 lead.
"I (had) … a couple of K's," Kelly said. "I felt good on the mound and it made it even better that I had my catcher J.J. Hoover behind the plate with me for the last time."
The North still led 10-6 after five innings, but wouldn't score again while the South scored seven times in the last four innings to win.
Hoover went 1 for 3 at the plate and also walked once.
"This event was truly an honor to be a part of," Hoover said. "Playing with the best Oregon high school baseball had to offer is truly humbling."
West Linn's best then brought out more of their best for the North team's Sunday victory. Kelly was perfect at shortstop and second base, and singled and scored on a Hoover hit in his team's four-run first inning.
Hoover, meanwhile, singled to plate Kelly in the first, scored himself on a Sage Dunaway hit in the first, then singled and scored again in the third.
"I thought I played well," Kelly said. "Sunday, I played some infield and made a few plays with a base hit in the first and felt good about my overall performance."
"The most memorable thing for me was playing in Goss Stadium with some of my best friends and finally playing together rather than against each other," Hoover said.
Beyond that, the highlight for both Lions was the chance to compete once more, to represent their school once more and to play together once more.
"I also loved getting the opportunity to play with Jonathan again," Hoover said. "We have been playing with each other since 12U and there is nobody I'd rather share these memories with."
"It was awesome to get to play with one of my best friends for the last time, especially in such a high-level event like this one," Kelly added. "I will miss sharing the field with him, but I know he will do big things next year at LBCC."
Decker Stedman of Thurston won the series' first-ever Jugs Sports Home Run Derby, went 5 for 9 with three doubles, a homer and four RBIs, and earned a save in the opener to win the Bob Brockman Oregon All-Star Series MVP honors.
Ruben Cedillo of Central was named the South's Most Outstanding Player after going 6 for 10 with four doubles, five runs scored and three RBIs. The South's Most Valuable Pitcher was South Salem's Ryan Brown.
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