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Portland, here they come.
CHOMPING AT THE BIT: Isaac Chamberlain prepares to hit an offering from a Pendleton pitcher Wednesday. - Observer photos/PAUL HARDER
The La Grande 9- 10-year-old Little League baseball All-Star team is headed to the Parkrose Little League baseball complex after defeating Pendleton Wednesday in the District 3 Championships, 13-8.
“It feels pretty sweet right now,” La Grande manager Kraig Jacobs said. “I’ve said it before but tournament experience is everything. We were in this position a lot last year and the kids showed a lot of heart and perseverance today.”
After outscoring its opponents 81-5 through the first four games of the tournament, this was no ordinary victory for La Grande.
The local All-Stars found themselves down 8-3 after four innings and were six outs away from having their summer of baseball come to an end.
After scoring one run in the top of the first inning,
La Grande looked uncharacteristically sloppy in the bottom half of the inning making unforced errors. Pendleton turned those mistakes into runs — five of them.
Pendleton added another run in the bottom of the second after retiring La Grande’s batters in order in the top of the second inning. Pendleton found the gaps in La Grande’s defense that the large crowd on hand had not seen all week.
La Grande began to show a pulse in the top of the third inning, getting deep singles from Isaac Chamberlain and Jake Workinger to open the inning. Elias Siltanen brought Chamberlain in with a stand-up double. But Pendleton was able to escape with only one earned run in the inning and La Grande left the bases loaded.
La Grande’s Workinger began to find his groove. He sent the Pendleton batters down in order in the bottom of the third.
La Grande chipped into the lead with an RBI double from Chamberlain in the top of the fourth that scored Ryan Adams.
After two quick strikeouts by Workinger in the bottom of the fourth inning, La Grande seemed to be having the momentum swing in its favor. But just as they did early in the game, La Grande wanted that extra degree of difficulty.
One simple stop was not enough.
A couple of costly throwing errors brought in two more Pendleton runs, making the score 8-3 after four innings.
La Grande began the fifth inning with a Siltanen single to centerfield and Jonathan Warren getting walked.
Then Trenton Shafer stepped into the batter’s box. With a one-and-one count, Shafer sent a ball deep over the left field wall.
“It felt so good when I hit it,” Shafer said. “We started to get down a little bit and I had to tell myself to just keep playing hard.
“Last year it seemed like I could just never get on base. That was the first time I have ever hit a home run. I’ll never forget what that felt like.”
That hit was the turning point of the game, and Shafer became the hero.
Throwing errors and shots into the outfield fueled La Grande and tied the game. Eventually the hosts regained the lead. When the onslaught was over, La Grande led 10-8 through five and a half innings.
SHAFER SENSATION: La Grande’s Trenton Shafer (far right) is greeted by teammates after hitting a three-run home run against Pendleton.
Workinger again retired the Pendleton batters in the bottom half of the inning forcing two ground outs and recording a strikeout.
La Grande added three more runs in the top of the sixth inning.
Siltanen came in to close in the bottom half of the inning, and La Grande was three outs from punching its ticket to Portland.
Siltanen watched as Pendleton could do nothing more than hit grounders that his infield gobbled up.
“This just feels wonderful,” La Grande coach Kory Vaughn said. “This is my first time doing this and coaching this group of kids has been amazing.
“We knew we were going to be in for a tough game, but to be able to come from behind and get that boost from Shafer, it brought those kids to the next level and they took it from there.”
La Grande advances to the state tournament in Portland July 18-25. They are in a pool with teams from the Portland, Medford and Grants Pass areas.
“Things are not that much different at the state level,” Jacobs said. “When you get this far up at the district level, the one and two teams are really competitive. Since we’ve been there before we know we’re going to face teams better than Pendleton and some worse.
“As long as we keep our heads in there I know we can persevere and be successful.”
La Grande 101 173 — 13
Pendleton 510 200 — 8