Through three games and three convincing wins, all fingers pointed towards the state tournament for The Dalles’ 11-12 Little League All Stars.
However, TD lost on consecutive days to Bend North and Bend South, with the final setback coming Thursday in a 6-2 loss in District 5 playoff action at Field of Dreams in Hermiston.
In Thursday’s contest, The Dalles jumped out to a 2-0 lead through half an inning, but could not sustain the momentum, as Bend South battled back for five runs in the bottom of the second frame and held on for a 6-2 winner to end the crimson and gold’s run.
The Dalles’ Ben Nelson singled on a short fly just past first base to lead off. Kurtis Billette then bounced into a fielder’s choice to first base with Nelson gunned down for the first out.
Caden Mathisen then worked a walk to put runners on first and second for cleanup hitter, Dominic Smith.
Smith smacked a two-run double to centerfield chasing in both Billette and Mathisen to make it a 2-0 contest.
The lead could have been bigger, but Smith was cut down at home plate on a single to center by Josh Johnson.
Bend South crept closer with a single run in the bottom of the first, and took the lead for good in the second frame on a home run, a double and three errors to make it a 6-2 contest.
From the third inning on, The Dalles was held hitless with four walks. They stranded four in that span, including two in the top of the sixth inning.
Also, TD reliever Dalles Seufalemua tossed three innings of two-hit ball with two strikeouts and one walk.
“The boys started well today,” said coach Abbas. “They put the ball in play and we pitched well. Bend South scored all their runs on three hits.”
In Saturday’s opener, The Dalles used a five-run second inning and added a four-run fifth to break things open early by a 9-0 margin, but Bend South chipped away using a six-run sixth frame and put the winning run at the plate.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Nelson recorded the final after inducing a game-ending grounder to Billette, who made the unassisted tag for the last out.
Staked to a five-run lead in the top of the fifth, The Dalles flexed its muscles with a four-run outburst.
Mathisen singled and then Smith followed with an RBI double to right.
Seufalemua was then issued an intentional pass to put runners on first and second for Johnson.
Johnson rifled a hard shot down the third base line for a two-run double to swell the advantage to 8-0.
Nelson capped the rally with a bases loaded walk to run the count out to 9-0.
With the score 9-1, Mac Abbas drove in Mathisen on an RBI sacrifice fly to make it a 10-1 score.
In the home half of the sixth, Bend South scored six runs on three hits, four walks and an error, but left the bases loaded.
In Sunday’s barnburner, The Dalles fell behind 3-2 entering the top of the sixth inning, so they were down to their last three outs.
Johnson kicked off the rally by reaching on an error.
With Mac Abbas at the dish, Johnson scooted to second base on a wild pitch to put the tying run in scoring position.
Abbas eventually reached safely on a walk to put two on for Sam Thalhofer.
With the crowd silent in anticipation, Thalhofer delivered a deep line drive to right centerfield for a two-run double to plate both Johnson and Abbas to make it a 4-3 contest.
Up by a run in the bottom of the sixth inning, TD skipper Joe Abbas sent out reliever Nelson to try and stamp out the save for Mathisen.
Nelson retired the first batter on a strikeout, but then an infield single opened the door slightly for Crook County.
With the tying run at first, Nelson settled in and fanned the next batter to make it two outs and the tying run on base.
The next CC batter hit a grounder to Seufalemua at third base and he got his feet formed and fired to Mathisen at first for the putout and a one-run win.
In Monday’s tilt, The Dalles scored early and often with three runs in the first frame and four more in the second to jump ahead by a 7-0 margin.
After rallying for three runs on two hits in the opening stanza, The Dalles continued its hot hitting pace in the second inning.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Billette rifled a two-run ground-rule double to center to chase in Thalhofer and Steven Preston to make it a 5-0 cushion.
One out later, Smith capped the rally with a ground-rule double to centerfield to bring in Nelson and Billette to swell the lead out to 7-0.
TD scratched across single runs in the third and fourth innings, before putting the mercy rule in place with a two-run spurt in the fifth frame to make it an 11-1 lead.
Smith shut down Jefferson County in the bottom of the fifth, two on strikeouts, to seal the TD win.
Although his team fell three wins shy of hoisting a tournament crown, coach Abbas along with assistants Mike Armstrong and Dan Nelson expressed pride in the way this group conducted themselves through seven grueling days under the sweltering heat.
The players, Billette, Nelson, Preston, Mac Abbas, Michael Armstrong, Thalhofer, Seufalemua, Smith, Austin Weir, Javier Sanchez, Johnson and Mathisen put their heart and soul on the line every time they hit the diamond.
“I am proud of the effort these kids gave this week; they didn’t quit,” coach Abbas added. “This group of young men represented themselves and The Dalles very well.”