West Linn baseball wins state, takes third at Battle of Omaha
After missing out on the 2020 spring season and seeing its 2021 campaign shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Linn baseball team was determined to get as much as possible from the summer of 2021.
And the Lions did just that, capping their summer season by battling into the semifinals at the Battle of Omaha — a 17U tournament held concurrently with the College World Series — at the end of June, then coming back to win the Northwest Premier Baseball League state title in late July at Tualatin High School.
"Sharing this experience with the guys I'm (been) surrounded by for several months straight is very important to me and I'm glad I was given an opportunity like this," said West Linn catcher/infielder Ryan VandenBrink.
"The biggest key to our success was how well we got along and the energy we had in the dugout," said first baseman Jake Holmes. "Everyone was playing selfless and performing for the benefit of the team and not themselves. That is what is so special about our group is that we are so close and love each other so much."
"Our team's overall performance was really good," added pitcher/outfielder Gabe Howard. "We played all around great baseball. ... A big key to our success was coming together as a team and bonding the entire week. "
Battle of Omaha
Playing in the Battle of Omaha — held in Nebraska in from June 24-28 — the Lions took three of four games in pool play, then won two straight times in championship play before falling to eventual tournament champion Bellevue West 12-6 in the tournament semifinals on June 27 and finishing third among 41 teams.
"Our team played amazing," Holmes said. "(We) battled through adversity with the change of heat and humidity and never gave up. We had multiple comeback wins and we really showed a lot of grit."
"We started the tournament a little rocky from time to time, and then after more time spent together in the hotel and at meals, we began to form that brotherhood," VandenBrink said. "We got closer and closer during that tournament, on and off the field, (and) I think that led to the success we had as a team."
"On our trip, we got to go to the College World Series which is every baseball player's dream of getting to play in," Howard added. "We got to watch (West Linn grad) Tim Tawa and Stanford play the first night in Omaha. We had an amazing trip overall."
West Linn opened the tournament with a trio of games on June 24, beating Brookings 11-5, falling 3-0 to Westside, then beating Moorhead 5-3. On July 25, the Lions stepped up to beat Roncolli Catholic 11-0 and advance to championship play.
There, West Linn began by avenging their lone loss with a 5-2 win over Westside. Next, the Lions dropped Hopkins 7-3 in the tournament quarterfinals on June 27, then finally came up short in their 12-6 loss to Bellevue West later on June 27.
Brookings — Jeremy Levasseur went 2 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs; Drew Talavs got the win, allowing one run on two hits and one walk with seven strikeouts.
Westside — Holmes went 1 for 2 with a triple; Howard took the loss, pitching 5 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
Moorhead — Drake Gabel went 2 for 2, Kace Naone had two RBIs and Spencer Sullivan scored twice; Wyatt Norris got the win, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks while striking out three.
Roncolli — Levasseur, Holmes and Jordy Tawa had two hits each, and Naone, Howard and Jackson Curdy knocked in two runs each; Gabel got the win, allowing no runs on one hit and one walk while striking out one.
Westside — Curdy went 2 for 4 with one run and one RBI, while Naone had two RBIs; Tawa got the win, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out three.
Hopkins — Levasseur went 1 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs; Aiden Duea got the win, allowing one run on four hits and two walks with one strikeout.
Bellevue West — Levasseur drove in two runs and Sullivan scored twice; Tyson Smith took the loss, allowing seven runs on six hits and one walk with two strikeouts.
During the Northwest Premier Baseball League state tournament at Tualatin, West Linn won three straight times to take the tourney title, beating Jesuit 4-3 on July 22, routing Canby 11-1 on July 23, then edging Clackamas 6-5 in the championship.
In the title game, Clackamas pushed ahead 2-0 early, then led 4-1 after the top of the fifth inning when Nick Holm doubled to left to score both Trevor Wilson and Garrett Strube.
But West Linn took over down the stretch, closing within 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth when VandenBrink singled to right to score two runs. Then, after Clackamas added one in the sixth to lead 5-3, West Linn tied the game in a sixth inning highlighted by Howard's double, a Tawa single and a sacrifice fly.
The Lions then won the game in the bottom of the seventh when VandenBrink led off with walk off home run to right-center field. VandenBrink led the way at the plate, going 3 for 4 with two RBIs and one run. Gabel got the win in relief, throwing three innings and allowing one run on three hits and one walk while striking out four.
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