The Del Norte 10-12 Baseball All Stars historic 2018 postseason finally came to a close on Thursday as District 8 champion Del Norte fell 5-3 to District 4 winner Murrayhill in the Oregon Little League State Championship game at Holland Youth Park in Salem, Oregon.
Prior to the start of the tournament on Saturday Del Norte All Star baseball teams had only won a total of one game in any division at the Oregon Little League State Baseball Tournaent, and the league had no wins in the 10-12 division. This year the Del Norte 10-12 All Stars finished 4-2 overall while finishing as the Oregon State runners up.
“It was a good run, and a great week,” said Del Norte head coach Cris Rice. “It was just a family feel. No one was tired of being around each other and everyone wanted to keep going.”
Both of the Warriors losses in the tournament came against eventual champion Murrrayhill.
“They made a run that Little League kids in Del Norte County are going to be chasing for a long time,” Rice said. “They will be saying, ‘Remember that team from 2018.’ Although it hurts that we aren’t going to San Bernedino (for the Northwest Regional Tournament) we are super proud of this group.”
After kicking off the tournament with a 6-2 win over Hollywood/Rose City on Saturday, Del Norte took the long route to the championship after suffering a 9-0 defeat at the hands of Murrayhill in the second round on Sunday.
Playing in the bottom of the double elimination bracket, Del Norte picked up a 9-1 win over Southeast Portland on Monday, followed by a 9-8 win over Baker City Tuesday, and a 10-0 win in four innings over Redmond on Wednesday that pushed Del Norte through to the state finals.
Rice said the atmosphere was incredible in Holland Youth Park for the championship game on Thursday.
“The atmosphere was so electric,” Rice said. “People from everywhere were everywhere. It was definitely the biggest game that I’ve been a part of.”
In addition to fans that traveled from Del Norte, Rice said the Warriors had a lot of neutral supporters in the championship as well.
“A lot of people wanted us to win because they are tired of Murrayhill winning — they are kind of like the Yankees. They are a great program and a perennial powerhouse. From 2000 to 2010 that team went to the Northwest Regional eight of those 10 years.”
After falling to Murrayhill 9-0, and only getting one hit throughout that contest, Del Norte gave Murrayhill about all it could handle in the second meeting.
“The final score was 5-3, but we were really a hit or two away and an error from us being able to capture victory. It is a little hard to swallow looking back on it, but the kids battled, and they showed that they deserved to be there,” Rice said. “It was just one of those things were we just didn’t get timely hits, and we made a couple mistakes in the field. You can’t have that in a championship game.”
As the visitors, Del Norte had the first at bat of the game. Starting pitcher and leadoff hitter Brody Mattz came to the plate and laced a ball hard into the outfield that Rice said he expected to be a double or a triple, but the Murrayhill made a great play on the ball with a sprinting backhanded catch for the first out.
Del Norte had a couple more hard hit balls in the second inning but Murrayhill’s defense came up big and managed to steal away a couple of solid hits.
The Warriors were finally able to get a couple baserunners in both the third and fourth innings, but both innings ended with runners on first and second base without a run scored.
Trailing 2-0 in the heading into the top of the fifth inning, Rice said he decided to take a different approach to firing up his team.
Rice sent team captain Cole Blackburn out to coach up the club. Blackburn, who was one of the top players for the Del Norte All Stars during their District 8 championship run, had sat out the entire state tournament after suffering a burst appendix shortly after the district tournament in June. Blackburn made the trip to Salem for the opening weekend before returning home to rest up, but Blackburn was back in the dugout for the championship on Thursday.
“It was pretty special having Cole Blackburn up there yesterday,” Rice said. “I felt like we weren’t getting through to the kids and they weren’t feeding off of our energy very well through the first four innings. Then right before our big inning I told Cole, ‘Before this inning you are going to talk to them.’”
Rice said he wasn’t sure what Blackburn said, but it seems to have worked.
After a strikeout to kick off the inning, Preston Daniels got on base with a walk before Mattz tied the game at 2-2 with a single swing of the bat for his second home run of the tournament.
“We had momentum going in the fifth inning and we were finally getting to them,” Rice said.
After pulling even, Murrayhill once again built up a lead in the bottom half of the inning. After an error and a walk, Murrayhill managed to crack a three-run home run with two outs for a 5-3 lead.
Del Norte came back and made Murrayhill nervous in the sixth inning. The Warriors pushed one run across the plate and loaded up the bases for a potential big inning, but Murrayhill was able to get out of the jam, pulling out the 5-3 victory.
“It stung really badly at the time, but looking back it is something that is really cool for these guys,” Rice said. “It’s something that they will remember when they are 40 and 50 years old. It’s something that other people will remember too.”
With the state tournament at an end, so it is the Little League careers of 10 of the 13 players on the Del Norte roster (including Blackburn).
“The next step for these kids, we were trying to figure that out,” Rice said. “I know they are going to go on to Babe Ruth and probably travel ball too. After the tournament they were talking and they all want to play CC Warriors this fall, and they want me to coach. I told them I need a week or two to think about it.”
Regardless of the particulars of when, and for whom, the Del Norte All Stars will play next, Rice said he expects the group to enjoy lots of wins for years to come.
“I see a good future for them in travel ball and Babe Ruth,” he said. “I see a high school team that will be strong. Obviously Mike (Dixon) had a good group last year, so we have a run of players that have been having success in little league at state.”
Reach Michael Zogg at firstname.lastname@example.org .