The road to the final
Bend North went 13-2 in its run from district playoffs to the Northwest Regional title game.
At Hermiston: d. Redmond, 11-1; d. Bend South, 11-0; d. Hermiston, 18-7; d. Bend South 5-4; d. Bend South 7-0.
At Alpenrose Dairy, Portland: d. Grants Pass, 6-0; d. Hollywood- Rose City (Portland), 6-5; d. Gresham, 9-4; d. Gresham, 14-4.
At San Bernardino, Calif.: l. Washington, 10-2; d. Wyoming, 15-0; d. Alaska, 10-2; d. Montana, 5-0; d. Alaska, 7-6; l. Washington, 6-3.
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — He never made a big deal about it, but Dan Ruhl said all tournament long that he liked his team’s chances if it got another shot at Washington.
The Bend North manager did not run away from that comment Saturday — he would still like his chances. But he would need a third opportunity.
Pacific Little League, the Washington state champion from the Seattle suburb of Lynnwood, did it again to Bend North.
Ian Michael pitched a complete game for Pacific, the Bend defense committed three errors, and the Oregon champions’ run in the Little League 11-12 Northwest Regional fell a win short of Williamsport with a 6-3 loss in the championship game Saturday afternoon at Al Houghton Stadium.
Bend ended the West Regional the same way it began it — with a loss to Washington. And like the opener, Saturday’s loss left Bend players and coaches feeling as though they had lost a game they easily could have won.
“It’s tough when you outhit a good team and you can’t capitalize and put them together and score runs,” said Ruhl, whose team had nine hits to Pacific’s seven.
Bend North (13-2) ended its season in the same round — the Northwest final — that Bend South fell here three years ago. Pacific (15-2) moved on to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., where it opens play against Jackie Robinson Little League of Chicago at noon Thursday.
Bend lost to Washington, 10-2, in the teams’ pool-play opener on Aug. 1. Yet even after that game, Ruhl said he had never felt so good after a loss. His team had a chance to tie in the fifth inning despite the lopsided score.
Neither team lost after that until Saturday’s rematch. Pacific earned the Northwest’s top seed with a 4-0 pool record.
Bend went 3-1 in pool play and earned the second seed. Both teams won in the semifinal round Thursday.
“I felt like that we were going to win,” said Bend starting pitcher Drew Steelhammer, who also went 3 for 3 at the plate. “I felt like being the underdogs would work to our favor. But we just didn’t play our best.”
Of the six runs Steelhammer allowed, only one was earned.
Pacific plated two runs in the first inning — a rally helped by a dropped third strike on the game’s first batter. Pinch hitter Tygan Duncan added the go-ahead runs in the third inning on an infield error and later scored on Karsen Tjarnaberg’s single,
“It was tough,” Ruhl said. “Some of my main players struggled, and it wasn’t just about striking out. It was about not making plays in the field.”
The tide appeared to shift in the sixth inning. Pacific had a potential uprising going, but it was snuffed out when Logan Kruse hit a liner to first base and Steelhammer, now playing first base, snared the drive and doubled up the Pacific runner to end the inning.
“That was a rally killer,” Pacific manager Robley Corsi Jr. said. “You go out at that point and momentum has shifted.”
Bend brought the tying run to the plate in the fifth, and it did again in the sixth when B.B. Logan reached base on a fielder’s choice and Jackson Murphy walked with two outs.
Michael then faced Bend North’s Nos. 2 and 3 hitters, Dylan Ruhl and Evan Scalley, who were hitting a combined .441. But the Washington ace right-hander struck out both Bend sluggers to end the game and touch off a celebration on the Pacific side. On the other side, the Oregon champions were a picture of dejection.
By then, the gamelong chase had worn on Bend.
“I think that if my kids aren’t swinging with tight arms,” Dan Ruhl said, “they get to (Michael) there.”
Michael finished with nine strikeouts and won despite allowing nine hits.
“He had a pretty decent curveball, but we still hit him well,” Dylan Ruhl said. “We outhit their team, but we didn’t play well in the field.”
Said Dan Ruhl: “I don’t feel like we were outplayed by any means. It was a very good battle between two very good teams.”