UC 15-YEAR-OLDS WIN TITLE
By Jayson Jacoby
For The Observer
BAKER CITY The Baker Nationals already had won two games they seemed certain to lose, so their predicament Tuesday played less like a problem than like one last dramatic plot twist.
Two outs in the last inning.
No one on base.
The ideal setting for a crowd-rousing rally.
The Nationals started one, but on Tuesday evening, unlike those two previous games, they couldn't quite finish it.
Union County won 4-2 to claim the championship of the District 3 Babe Ruth All-Star Tournament at the Baker Sports Complex.
But the Nationals supplied some thrills before the end.
With his team one out from defeat, Baker's Grant Johnson slashed a single to left field.
Then Baker's Jake McAlister was hit by a pitch. Ethan Reidy drew two strikes to push the Nationals to the absolute brink, but then he yanked them back from the edge by lining Travis Hudson's next pitch past third baseman Jordan Lanman.
Johnson scored on Reidy's single.
Baker was behind 4-2, with runners on first and second.
Richie Watkins came to bat, and his first swing seemed destined to narrow Union County's lead to a single run.
But Watkins' soft line drive couldn't quite clear the infield, and the tournament and Baker's season ended when the ball disappeared into Union County second baseman Kaden Titus' glove.
It was the second time in two innings that a Union County infielder robbed Watkins of a hit.
Shortstop Landon Weaver stole a single from Watkins in the bottom of the sixth inning by making a diving catch in shallow center field.
Nor was that the only play in which a few inches might have changed the game's outcome.
"We had lots of opportunities," Baker Coach Matt Reidy said. "It was a tight game, and we knew it would be a tight game. We got people on base, we just couldn't push that one run or two across that we really needed.
"Sometimes that's just baseball."
The game, which was supposed to start at 5 p.m. but was delayed by about a half hour due to a scheduling mix-up with the umpires, started fast for Baker.
Seager Pence led off the bottom of the first with a single. He advanced to third when Union County botched a pickoff play, then scored on a passed ball.
Baker starting pitcher Derek Howerton gave up leadoff hits in both the first and second innings, but both times he doused Union County's scoring threat with three straight outs.
Baker couldn't extinguish Union County's offense in the third, however.
Union County scored two runs in a wild half-inning that included one walk, one hit batter, one successful suicide squeeze bunt and two singles.
Neither team scored in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
Baker had chances, though.
The Nationals had runners on first and second with two outs in the fourth, but Weaver snared Pence's grounder and tossed the ball to Titus at second base for the third out.
Howerton and McAlister each singled in the fifth, but Howerton's hit was preceded by a pickoff at first, and McAlister's by a fielder's choice.
Union County scored twice in the seventh, hitting three singles off Baker pitcher C. Jay Owens, who relieved Howerton in the fourth and held Union County scoreless for three innings.
Union County beat SRV Nationals 6-5 in Tuesday's semifinal. Union County heads to the state tournament July 23 in Astoria.
Tuesday's championship game
UC 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 4
BN 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 2
Weaver, Hudson (4) and Witty. Howerton, Owens (4) and Watkins. WP Weaver. LP Howerton.
Union County hits Hudson 2, Weaver, Lanman, Titus 3, Walton, Mills. RBI Witty, Titus 2, Lanman.