The West Linn baseball team beats Lake Oswego 6-4 in its Class 6A state semifinal.
There’s no doubt about it.
The five-week war known as the Three Rivers League regular season taught teams a ton of useful lessons.
The TRL champion West Linn baseball team learned that it’s not invincible and that it has to keep grinding no matter what.
The Lake Oswego baseball team learned that it can compete with anybody and that it’s never out of a game until the final out of the final inning.
Both those lessons were on full display on Tuesday, May 30, at West Linn High School, where the Lions blasted out to a six-run lead after two innings, then held on as the Lakers battled back before West Linn finally won 6-4 in the Class 6A state semifinals.
“I’ve got so much respect for everybody over there. They’re dogs. They battle,” said West Linn senior first baseman Jake Holmes, who went 2 for 3 at the plate with one run scored and two RBIs, both of those RBIs on his first-inning two-run homer. “We knew it wasn’t done so we had to try our best to stay locked in.”
“It felt great getting the win,” said Lion sophomore left fielder Baron Naone, who went 2 or 3 at the plate with two RBIs. “(Lake Oswego) has always been a rival … but we didn’t let up today.”
“We were expected to be in this position, but all of our games are grinds, especially this one,” said West Linn sophomore right fielder Danny Wideman, who went 2 for 4 and scored once. “We got six (runs) early and we expected to get more later in the game, but our defense held up and we’re excited to be in the championship.”
With the win, the top-ranked Lions’ ninth straight, West Linn improved to 25-6 overall after winning the Three Rivers League title. Next up, the Lions will face No. 2 Jesuit (a 4-2 winner over No. 6 North Medford on Tuesday) in the state championship game at noon Saturday, June 3, at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
No. 4 Lake Oswego, meanwhile, saw its three-game winning streak snapped and ended its year at 24-7 overall after placing third in the Three Rivers League.
“I was really happy with the way my team responded,” said Lake Oswego senior pitcher Declan Francis, who threw six innings and allowed six runs (three earned) on seven hits and four walks while striking out six. He also went 3 for 4 at the plate and knocked in two runs. “The approach I had pitching to start the game just wasn’t really working, (but) I’m really proud of my teammates for putting up some runs for me even though I allowed more.”
“I think a lot of people were surprised to see us (in the semifinals),” said Laker senior shortstop Grant Maxwell. “But we weren’t surprised. We believed in ourselves since day one, since we started lifting weights last fall. We haven’t surprised ourselves at all. We believed we were going to be here all the time.”
To buy prints or digital downloads from this contest, go to milesvance.smugmug.com.
The Lions started the game at a dead sprint, getting a leadoff walk by senior Drake Gabel in the bottom of the first inning, a double to right field from Wideman, a sacrifice fly to right by junior Ryan VandenBrink to make it 1-0, and then a two-run homer over the right-field fence by Holmes for a 3-0 lead.
After West Linn junior starter Gabe Howard — he pitched 3-2/3 innings and allowed four runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks while striking out three — set the Lakers down in order in the second, the Lions got back after it offensively.
In the bottom of the second, junior Ethan Simshauser led off with a walk, took second on junior Mitchell Rowe’s bunt, third on a wild pitch and — following walks to both Gabel and VandenBrink — came home when Lake Oswego couldn’t handle Holmes’ grounder to third. Naone came up next and stroked a hard single to left field that scored both Gabel and VandenBrink for that early 6-0 lead.
“This crowd got us going, got us some momentum and we stopped the momentum for them and … we just did our thing,” Wideman said.
Lake Oswego, however, was determined to come back.
“At the start of the game, I was kind of getting flashbacks from the last time we played here when we got 10-runned, but we came into the dugout and we said ‘No,’” Maxwell said. “We’ve been down a lot in the playoffs, especially late, but we had plenty of time this time. We (knew we could) come back.”
The Lakers began their comeback with a two-out rally in the top of the third. Senior Vince Williams worked Howard for a two-out walk, Maxwell singled to left, and after a wild pitch, Francis singled to center field to score both and cut the West Linn lead to 6-2.
There were more LO fireworks to come in the top of the fourth, too. Junior Sam Trojan got things started when he reached base on an error, senior Brodie Heher doubled down the third base line, junior Karsten Krebs followed with a sacrifice fly to left, and with two outs, the Lakers’ fourth run came home on an error to make it 6-4.
But both pitchers — senior Drake Gabel relieved Howard in the fourth — held the upper hand after those early outbursts, with Francis shutting out the Lions in their final four at-bats, while Gabel kept the Lakers off the scoreboard in their final three times at the plate.
That said, there were still some dramatics down the stretch. Francis gave up two hits in the fourth inning, but struck out Naone to end the threat, then stranded Wideman at second in the sixth when he struck out VandenBrink.
The Lakers’ best chance to cut further into the Lions’ lead came in the fifth inning when Francis led off with a single to center and Trojan joined him on base after a soft one-out single to right. But everything went sideways for LO when Heher stepped to the plate.
Heher hit a hard ground ball to Rowe at shortstop and he fed senior Tyson Smith at second to put Trojan out. Heher beat Smith’s double-play throw to first, but Francis tried to score on the play and got gunned down at the plate by Holmes’ throw to VandenBrink.
Finally, in the top of the seventh, Francis doubled down the third base line with two outs, but Gabel got LO senior Bryan Ramirez on a ground ball to Smith to end the game.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game. I knew the game wasn’t over when we got those six runs, but we held on and we got it done,” Naone said. “When they got to four (runs), I got a little frustrated, but once again, we held on.”
“I’d rather play in a dogfight than a blowout every day of the week,” Holmes said. “After scoring those six runs in the first two innings, we just battled. It was a war. I’ve got a lot of respect for them and I’ve got a lot of respect for Francis. He’s a great pitcher.”
Gabel walked twice and scored twice for West Linn, and VandenBrink went 1 for 2 with one run and one RBI. Gabel also pitched the final three innings and shut out the Lakers on three hits and no walks while striking out two.
The Lakers, meanwhile, left disappointed with the outcome but proud of their efforts and their season.
“It’s all about confidence, and once we started picking up some hits — and especially some runs — we didn’t see West Linn as some impossible No. 1 seed to defeat,” Francis said. “We showed that we could put up a fight and I’m happy with that.”
For the game, Williams went 1 for 2 and scored once, and Trojan and Heher were both 1 for 3 with one run.