Most of the faces are different, but the Del Norte 8–10-year-olds All Star team is once again the Oregon District 8 champion after the Warriors pulled out an exciting 14-12 victory over Grants Pass National in the winner-take-all championship game on Friday at US Cellular Fields in Medford.
The 2017 8–10 Del Norte All Stars returned two players from the 2016 championship squad, which rolled through the District 8 tournament while outscoring its opponents 48-1. Del Norte head coach Chris Rice said this year’s championship had a completely different feel.
“They exceeded my expectations going into it,” Rice said. “For us to win over there was really big. The year before we dominated districts, and we had the team to dominate. This team scrapped, fought, clawed and just never gave up. I told them that I was probably as proud of them as I have ever been of a team I have coached for how they battled and got it done, and I have coached a lot of sports and a lot of teams. It wasn’t one guy, it was a team effort.”
The Del Norte All Stars started the tournament out hot, picking up a 17-7 victory over Medford and a 22-5 win over Grants Pass National to get into the championship game still undefeated in the double elimination tournament. Grants Pass was able to beat Medford in the other semifinal matchup, and managed to hand Del Norte its first loss with a come-from-behind 13-12 victory on Thursday to set up the winner-take-all title game on Friday.
“It was just a nightmare,” Rice said of the first championship game. “We were ahead 9-2 (in the fifth inning), but I just couldn’t get my pitchers to come in and close it, so they tied it up. Then we went ahead 12-9 but we still couldn’t get an out and there were some questionable calls and we ended up losing by one.”
After the team’s first loss together, Rice said he tried to keep a positive attitude heading into Friday’s rematch.
“We had practice the next morning at US Cellular Field and we tried to forget about the day before,” Rice said. “We told them that they only have one game to win the tournament. At the beginning of the season we would have loved to have one game to win it all.’ We just really tried to stay positive with the kids and the coaches.”
Despite Rice’s efforts, Grants Pass National was able to carry over some of its momentum from the previous night, jumping on top 9-0 in the top of the first inning. The Warriors were able to answer back with six runs in the bottom half of the inning to keep the Nationals within arm’s reach.
“Both teams kind of ran out of pitching because the game before went into extra innings,” Rice said.
Luckily for Del Norte, one of the team’s less heralded pitchers, Mason Borges, was able to step up when his name was called. Although Borges made the All Star team primarily as a position player, he was able to stabilize the Del Norte defense on the mound in the Warriors’ biggest game so far.
“He pitched OK this season — he wasn’t someone I would have had on my radar as a championship game pitcher,” Rice said. “But he just settled in there in the first inning and got us out of the jam, then he held them scoreless all the way until he pitched his 75 pitches in the fifth inning. He just did amazing. It was one of those unexpected moments in a championship game where a kid just kind of rose up.”
Del Norte was able to score two more runs in the second inning to close the gap to 9-8 and in the fourth inning the Warriors were able to take their first lead of the day.
Aiden Rice put Del Norte in front with a three-RBI triple and Preston Daniels followed that up two batters later with a two-RBI double. Both hits went over the outfielder’s head and hit the fence.
“The bats got hot and we had kids getting on base. They ran out of pitching too, so our kids were really patient and we were able to get on base with walks. Then when we had a couple runners on we were able to get some big hits that hit the fence,” Rice said. “It was kind of cool that Aiden Rice and Preston Daniels, the only second year All Stars, really stepped up. They both had big hits and made big plays in the game.”
With a 14-9 lead, Borges was finally pulled from the game with two outs in the fifth inning after the young pitcher hit the 75-pitch limit. Landon Tisue came in to get the last out of the fifth inning and continued to get the first out of the sixth inning, but Grants Pass National was able to make another late rally.
This time, Del Norte held it off.
Aiden Rice took the mound with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth and final inning. He was able to get the first out with one run scoring to make it 14-11 Del Norte, with runners on second and third.
Rice then got the batter to pop up to the short stop to end the game.
With the win the Del Norte 8–10-year-olds All Stars complete the clean sweep of District 8, following a championship by Del Norte’s 11–12-year-olds All Star baseball team and a win by default for the 11–12-year-olds softball All Stars that was the only team in district 8 this year.
The 8–10-year-olds All Stars will advance to the Oregon State Tournament at Irv Lind Stadium in Portland in late July. The opening ceremony will be held on July 21 before the Warriors take the field against the district 1 champion from Portland.
“It is a huge metropolitan area, so I’m sure they have a really good team,” Rice said. “Last year we had a really good team and we went 0-2 at the state tournament, so I told the kids if we can get a win that puts us ahead of the group from last year.”
Rice said the team is also attempting to raise money to help offset the cost of the trip for the players and their families. The team has set up a GoFundMe page, which can be found at gf.me/u/29qcs.
The Del Norte 11–12-year-olds baseball All Stars also advanced to the Oregon State Tournament in La Grande, Oregon after going undefeated at the district 8 tournament. The 11–12-year-olds All Stars are scheduled to kick off play in the state tournament against the winner of District 6 at noon on July 15.
The Del Norte 11–12-year-olds softball All Stars are also in the Oregon State Tournament, by default, as the only softball team in the district this year. The state softball tournament will be held July 19 at US Cellular Fields in Medford.