West Linn 14U baseball team beats Kelso 3-1 to win Babe Ruth regional
The West Linn 14U baseball team fell short of perfection in the Babe Ruth Pacific Northwest Regionals.
But the young Lions came pretty darn close.
West Linn, serving as the host team for the July 23-27 tournament at West Linn High School, won six straight games to take the tournament title, outscoring its opponents 55-11 along the way. In the process, the Lions secured a berth to the 14U Babe Ruth World Series, set for Aug. 8-15 in Demopolis, Alabama.
West Linn capped its tournament run with two wins on Saturday, beating Portland Babe Ruth (the North Oregon representative) 8-0 in the semifinals, then edging Kelso (the South Washington representative) 3-1 in the championship.
"I haven't won since we were 9-year-olds so it's been a long time," said West Linn second baseman Ryan VandenBrink, who handled nine defensive chances without an error, including a key unassisted double play in the fifth inning. "It was like 'Wow,' feeling that relief of finally getting the last out."
"I got a little nervous in the last inning because I thought (relief pitcher Gabe Howard) was under a lot of pressure so I just tried to make sure the defense was ready to help him out," said West Linn center fielder Drake Gabel, who snared a line drive for the game's final out. "I was just so happy because we get another chance to go back (to the World Series)."
West Linn opened its tournament with a 9-7 win over Brewster (the North Washington representative) on July 23, beat Calgary (the Alberta, Canada, representative) 3-2 on July 24, routed the Belgrade Bandits (the Montana representative) 17-0 on July 25, then hammered Klamath Falls (the South Oregon representative) 15-0 on July 26.
In the championship game, the Lions stepped up to grab a 2-0 lead in the second inning and rode the outstanding effort of starting pitcher Max Allen until the end of the fifth inning. Allen picked up the win after going five innings and allowing no runs on five hits, one walk and one hit batter while striking out two.
"I felt great. Everything was working," Allen said. "They couldn't hit the curveball. (I was getting it over the plate) all through the count."
After a scoreless first inning, Allen kickstarted his team's offense when he reached base on an error with one out in the top of the second. Then, with two outs, Tyson Smith singled to left and Dylan Nance loaded the bases when he reached on another error. Gabel made Kelso pay for its mistakes, lining a shot into center field off Kelso starter Jackson Toms to score both Allen and Smith for a 2-0 lead.
While Gabel's hit drove in what turned out to be the winning run, he didn't want to think about it that way when there was still so much left in the game.
"After I hit that ball, I just tried to focus on the next (play)," Gabel said. "There were still five innings left so I didn't want to think about what was going to happen until the game was over. Those guys are good."
While neither team would score again until the sixth inning, there was plenty of excitement along the way. After Allen set Kelso down in order in both the second and third innings, he hit two batters in the fourth before escaping unscathed.
Then, in the fifth, Toms led off with a single to right and Ben Muraski hit an opposite-field single to left that brought Hunter Letteer to the plate with no outs. Letteer followed with a hard line drive up the middle, but VandenBrink ranged to his right, gloved the shot and let his momentum carry him over to second base where he doubled off Toms. Allen then struck out Landon Patterson to end the threat.
While West Linn stranded baserunners and failed to score in the first, third, fourth (including hits by Jackson Curdy and Nance) and fifth innings, the Lions broke through for their final run in the sixth. Jack Fillion led off with a walk to chase Toms, Howard bunted Fillion to second, he stole third and then scored when Kelso catcher Letteer's throw to third went astray.
After Howard faced just three batters in the sixth, Kelso's Carter Gaston reached base on a one-out error in the seventh, advanced on Toms' single and a steal, then scored on Letteer's sacrifice fly to center field. But there, with West Linn's lead at 3-1, Kelso's Bannick Allen lined out to Gabel to end the contest.
"I knew (Gabel) was going to catch it," Allen said. "He's been there for us all year."
"I saw Drake track down that ball and I knew right away that was it," VandenBrink added.
For Kelso, Toms went 2 for 3 at the plate and threw five innings, allowing three runs on six hits and one walk while striking out two.
The rest of the West Linn team includes Max Wright, Aidan Duea, Drew Ness, Jake Holmes and Daniel Onion, along with coaches Danny Nance, Don Gabel, Aaron Howard and Kevin VandenBrink.
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