The Del Norte 10–12 All Star baseball team has been one loss away from elimination since Sunday, but the Warriors just keep winning.
Playing on the bottom of the double elimination Oregon Little League Major Baseball State Tournament in Salem since falling 9-0 to Murrayhill on Sunday, Del Norte has responded with three straight wins, including a nail-biting 9-8 victory over Baker City on Tuesday followed by an impressive 10-0 win in four innings against a Redmond team that Del Norte head coach Cris Rice said he thought was the best squad in the tournament.
Del Norte’s postseason run has come without one of its two team captains this season — Cole Blackburn. Blackburn suffered a burst appendix shortly after the Del Norte All Stars won the District 8 championship.
“A lot of kids have stepped up — it has been crazy. We have had so many kids step up, and we have managed the pitching well,” Rice said. “We have done all of this without a kid that we were going to lean on heavily. We have done all of this without a player that could have won us two games up here. We are battling, though, and we are making no excuses. These kids are on a high, and I wouldn’t bet money against them. It’s all of the kids too. It has been a different kid every time and a different kid every inning.”
Now the Del Norte All Stars are one of just two teams remaining at the state tournament in Salem. The Warriors will have a rematch with Murrayhill today at 6 p.m. to kick off the championship round. Murrayhill is still undefeated in the tournament, so Del Norte would have to win on Thursday and again in a potential rematch at 6 p.m. on Friday in order to be crowned the 2018 Oregon Little League Major Baseball champions.
“Friday would be a challenge, but to just get to Friday would be unbelievable,” Rice said. “The way this is going I’m not even that surprised that this happened today. It is just another game and these kids are on fire. We are riding high right now.”
Del Norte 9, Baker City 8
The first inning went about as poorly as possible for the Del Norte All Stars on Tuesday. Facing elimination for the second game in a row, the Warriors spotted Baker City five runs in the first frame before coming back quickly.
“We had a bad, bad first inning,” said Del Norte head coach Cris Rice.
The Del Norte All Stars were the first team up to bat, but the Warriors’ top three hitters were retired in order to start the game.
Baker City then took control of the game with a pair of basehits to start the inning before a few Del Norte errors allowed things to snowball. Starting pitcher Preston Daniels finally ended the onslaught himself with a strikeout — his third of the inning.
“Preston actually pitched pretty well. They were just hitting him, and then we had some errors on defense,” Rice said. “The kids were really nervous and they were out there for a really long time.”
Facing an early 5-0 deficit, Rice said the team came together to try to calm their nerves before going back to bat.
“After the first inning we talked about getting it started,” Rice said. “Collin Tromble, my seventh hitter, got us going with an RBI double.”
After a strikeout and a walk Del Norte Captain Brody Mattz came up to the plate with two outs, and the Warriors trailing 5-1.
“He was one of the players that was rattled defensively in the first inning and struggled, but then he hit a three-run home run to make it 4-5,” Rice said. “For Brody to come back, battle adversity and hit that home run was pretty sweet. Then on the very next pitch (Giancarlo) deSolenni hit another home run to tie the game at 5-5.”
The tie game didn’t last long, however. Baker City struck back in the second inning when their leadoff batter hit a single and came around to score on a passed ball for a 6-5 lead. In addition to falling back behind, Del Norte’s starting pitcher Daniels was knocked out of the game for a few innings after being cleated while covering the plate on the play.
With Daniels on the sidelines, Rice turned to Billy Lewis to keep Del Norte in the game. Lewis managed to hold Baker City scoreless and only allowed a couple hits in his first four innings of work.
“Billy pitched great,” Rice said. “He really wanted it. It was pretty impressive for him.”
Although Lewis kept Baker City from adding to its lead, Del Norte was also held scoreless through the next two innings. In the top of the fifth inning the Warriors finally got their bats going again. Lewis and RJ Loftin both reached base safely and managed to come around to score, giving the Del Norte All Stars their first lead of the game at 7-6 with just one inning left.
In the top of the sixth inning both Willie Bommelyn and Mattz reached base safely before Gavin Skerik came up to the plate with two outs. Skerik gave Del Norte a little bit of breathing room with a two-RBI single that brought both Warrior runners back to the plate for a 9-6 lead.
“We didn’t realize how important that was at the time,” Rice said. “That was like our last swing and we could have ended with the bases loaded without getting any runs. Those turned out to be big runs for us.”
Lewis came back out to finish the game for Del Norte, quickly picking up a strikeout and a flyout to the shortstop for two outs. Then Baker City started to make contact against Del Norte’s reliever.
Baker City’s second, third and fourth hitters each got on base as the team pulled back to within a run of the Del Norte All Stars. Baker City ended up with the tying run on third base and the winning run standing on second when Lewis got the hitter to ground out to deSolenni at second base.
The win allowed Del Norte to move on to the semifinal round and into the final three teams remaining in the Oregon State Tournament.
“It was emotionally draining, but it was unbelievable,” Rice said. “The kids are playing with a lot of confidence.”
Del Norte 10, Redmond 0
Rice said Redmond seemed a little bit overconfident heading into Wednesday’s semifinal matchup against the Del Norte All Stars. Even before the game began, Rice said, Redmond players were trying to get inside Del Norte starting pitcher Raymond Rusgrove’s head with a little chatter.
But Rusgrove chose to respond with his pitching.
“We had Raymond Rusgrove on the hill and he was absolutely unbelievable pitching,” Rice said. “He gave up no runs — any time he got in trouble he battled through it. We had ultimate confidence in him. He heard all of their chatter — they were taunting him a little bit before the first inning — and he got them three-up, three-down. He was just huge on the mound.”
After Rusgrove retired the first three Redmond hitters in order, the Del Norte offense came up to the plate and took advantage of a lot of self-inflicted mistakes by their opponents to take a commanding 5-0 lead after the first frame.
“It was off of walks, off of hit batters, off of basehits, off of errors by their pitcher,” Rice said. “It was like they thought they were going to come out and tattoo us, but we came out and just shut them down. Then we got up by five, then we were up by eight, and we just kept rolling.”
Although Rusgrove completed the shutout in the semifinal matchup, Redmond was able to generate their chances with multiple runners on base on several occasions throughout the game. Each time Del Norte managed to get out of the jam, however.
In the third inning, for example, Redmond had a baserunner then it got a hit into the outfield that Tyler Vanlandingham, a reserve outfielder, misplayed. Rice said the ball went to the fence to set up Redmond with runners on second and third with just one out.
The young outfielder shook off the error like a veteran, however, and came up big in the next at bat.
“They line drive one at him in the next at bat and he ran up and made this crazy, almost do-or-die catch and threw the kid out at second to make the double play,” Rice said. “Plays like that were just total momentum killers, and we had so many momentum killers throughout the game.”
The game ended on a passed ball in the bottom of the fourth inning. Del Norte had the bases loaded and Billy Lewis came charging in to score for a 9-0 lead. Redmond attempted to make a play on Lewis but overthrew the ball. Then RJ Loftin, who started the play on second base, took advantage of the miscue and came flying around to score, bringing the 10-run rule into effect and ending the game.
“It was a walkoff double-passed ball — I don’t think I’ve ever seen that,” Rice said.