August 20, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

POWELL, Wyo. The only thing that changed for La Grande Monday was that it took eight innings instead of seven to put its opponent away.

Rain Roofing came within one win of claiming the Northwest Class A American Legion Regional Tournament championship by beating Bitterroot, Mont., 19-9.

It was the first game at regionals that took La Grande (30-9) more than seven innings to finish. But once again, for the fourth straight game, the contest ended due to the 10-run mercy rule.

La Grande will play Burlington, Wash., a team Rain Roofing beat 15-5 Sunday, at 4 p.m. PDT today for the regional title. If La Grande loses, it will play a second game immediately thereafter.

Hopefully well get it done. Id hate for us to get this far an not finish (with the title), La Grande coach Wes McAllaster said.

Bitterroot rallied from a 10-0 deficit and gave La Grande a big scare in the top of the sixth inning, scoring seven runs to get within 10-9.

Instead of panicking, Rain Roofing responded with a five runs in the bottom of the sixth.

Its what weve been doing in all our tournaments, McAllaster said. If the other team scores, we come back and answer and keep the momentum. We havent been in a situation where its gotten close.

Out of the 28 innings played at regionals, La Grande has only trailed in three innings.

Drew Fischer helped La Grande restart its offense by belting a solo home run in the sixth. A Tanner Abel walk and Dollen Stroup double set up an Aaron Thomas single that drove in Abel. Stroup then scored on a double steal that sent Thomas to second.

Jeremy George was walked and both he and Thomas advanced to second and third base on a wild pitch. A Shane Slover double to right/center field scored George and Thomas.

In the eighth inning, Ty Mellinger hit a leadoff double that hit the wall. Thomas drove in Mellinger on a double. two batters later, Slover hit a one-run double.

A Kleck walk was followed by a Glasser one-run single. Fischer loaded the bases with a walk and Abel ended the game with a two-run single off the right-field wall.

The contest started slowly, with La Grande scoring a run in the first inning when Abel scored on a Stroup double.

Adam Kleck and Glasser led off the third inning by advancing safely on errors. A Fischer sacrifice fly sent Kleck home, and Abel singled to score Glasser.

A seven-run fourth inning featured a variety of offense.

With two outs and Thomas on third base, Slover was hit by a pitch. Thomas then scored on a double steal and Slover advanced to second.

Kleck walked, followed by Glasser hitting a one-run single. Fischer then blasted a 355-foot three-run homer over the right field wall for a 8-0 lead.

The scoring didnt end there as Abel singled and Stroup hit a two-run home run to left field.

Kleck started on the mound and picked up the win.

He was in control until that (seven-run) sixth inning, McAllaster said. Until then, he was mowing them down. In the sixth, he walked three guys and one of their guys hit a grand slam.

That closed the margin to 10-9 and McAllaster brought in Thomas to close the contest.

(Thomas) gave up only one hit the next three innings, McAllaster said. Whoever comes in (relief) seems to put out the fire.

La Grande tallied 10 extra-base hits and nine steals. Abel and Stroup had three hits apiece. Fischer had four RBIs, and Stroup and Slover added three each. Thomas had five stolen bases.

Bitterroot, Mont. 000 027 00 9 6 3

La Grande 102 705 04 19 16 1

Curran, Olsen (4), Louvier (8) and Lokken; Kleck, Thomas (6) and Slover. WP Kleck. LP Curran.

La Grande hits Abel 3, Stroup 3, Glaser 2, Fischer 2, Mellinger 2, Thomas 2, Slover 2. 2B Stroup 2, Mellinger 2, Slover 2, Thomas. HR Fischer 2, Stroup. RBI Fischer 4, Stroup 3, Slover 3, Glasser 2, Abel 2, Thomas 2. SB Thomas 5, Glasser, Fischer, Abel, Stroup.