July 20, 2003 11:00 pm

By Mike Weber

For The Observer

HOOD RIVER — After five days and 34 baseball games played with eight teams, the top two contenders — Union County and Beaverton — finally met in the Babe Ruth North Oregon State Tournament Championship contest Sunday at Hood River Valley High School. After earning the No. 1 seed among the four remaining finalists, Union County had the advantage of a four hour break after their 12-2 semifinal win over Hermiston, while Beaverton played an hour later in the 7 p.m. finals following a 2-0 win over Columbia Gorge.

Perhaps being well rested was the edge that Manager Darwin Roberts' 13-year-old All-Star squad needed and in particular for his dynamic pitching duo of Cody McKague and Anthony Nice. Most of the 11 players on the team have never been to Montana, but that's exactly where they're headed to after an 8-6 win over Beaverton (5-1) propelled Union County (6-0) into the Pacific Northwest Regionals starting July 25 in Bozeman. For Union County, also coached by Rich Carmichael and Monty McIntosh, it's their first Babe Ruth state title in over 10 years.

"I hope that Union County enjoys the successful season that this fine group of kids have had, because they sure know how to play good baseball and I'm so very proud of them," said Roberts, who was ecstatic about winning this first state title of his coaching career. "Cody sure provides good leadership on our team and he really helps in motivating his teammates to play up to their potential. Cody and Anthony can both take control of a game when we need a lift and they always step up and make key plays to help us win."

Beaverton, the designated visiting team, got on the scoreboard first while getting three early runs. Stellar defensive play by Union County prevented further scoring though as second baseman Richie Carmichael, shortstop Nice and first baseman G.D. Clark combined for a double play. In the bottom of the first inning, McKague and "Big Mac" Taylor McIntosh both reached base with walks and then Jacob Johnston belted a fly ball to centerfield for a two RBI single, making it 3-2 after one.

After a scoreless second, U.C. tied it in the third on a fielders choice RBI by Josh Homan, driving in Johnston who earlier reached base after getting hit by Beaverton starting pitcher Mitchell Edwards. Beaverton regained control while scoring twice in the fifth and they extended their advantage to 6-3 in the sixth. Travis Ludwig's remarkable defense behind the plate helped stall Beaverton's offense as he putout a runner on an attempted steal of home after catching a pickoff throw from Johnston.

In the bottom of the sixth, Carmichael ripped a fly to left field for a single and Ludwig drew a walk. McKague then walloped a ball to right field for a two RBI double, making it 6-5. After a pitching change, the 5-foot-9 McIntosh greeted reliever Austin Hope by driving home McKague for the tying run.

After Johnston drew a walk and Clark singled to center to load the bases, two runs scored as a result of Beaverton's error when catcher Pat Coghlan overthrew third baseman Ryan Meehan while trying to pickoff a runner. Beaverton's comeback attempt in the seventh failed as they hit just four token infield grounders as Clark got putouts of three runners at first to end it and the Union County celebration began.

"It's great to win a state championship and I've never been involved in anything this exciting," said McIntosh. "We played good defense, everyone hit the ball well and Cody and Anthony really helped lead us to this big win with their outstanding pitching."

"Our goal was to come out here and win the tournament, so this is really a great accomplishment," said Nice, who gave up two runs, three hits and walked two while pitching four innings after relieving McKague, who started.

"I was pretty worried though when we trailed by three, because I just wasn't sure if we were capable of making a comeback in a pressure filled situation of a championship game," said Nice. "I was throwing fastballs and curveballs, while just trying to contain their batters and keep the ball on the ground. We hit the ball very well and we forced Beaverton to make errors, which was really the keys to the game."

"One of the good qualities that I really like about these kids is that they don't give up and they never quit," said Roberts. "Beaverton is an extremely good team though, but I had nice feeling today about our chances of winning. It's unfortunate the way we got our last two runs, but I'll take them anyway we can get it. I knew that if we hit the ball well, we would have some success and I really have confidence in these guys and they played tough in the seventh inning holding onto the lead and not letting Beaverton score."

Union County 8, Beaverton 6

Beaverton 3 0 0 0 2 1 0 — 6 5 3

Union County 2 0 1 0 0 5 x — 8 8 2

Mitchell Edwards, Austin Hope (6) and Pat Coghlan. Cody McKague, Anthony Nice (4) and Travis Lugwig. 2B:McKague (UC).