THE DALLES - A shockingly sad, unbelievable and bizarre experience is probably one way to describe the incident that occurred at the District 5 Little League All-Star Tournament at Kramer Field in The Dalles Wednesday.
The Dalles Blue team won the minor division (age 9-10) game by forfeit over Hermiston's All-Stars, eliminating coach Jeff Gritz's squad from the series.
Hermiston had proven it was the best squad among the six remaining out of 17 total teams, and they would have probably won the district title. With Hermiston leading 9-1 in the fifth inning, the game abruptly ended with a lengthy and controversial discussion among umpires, coaches and the tournament director regarding a protest by The Dalles coaches.
The official scorekeepers informed The Dalles manager Matt McCall that Hermiston's ace pitcher Nychal Gritz, exceeded the 75 limit pitch count. The Hermiston score book contradicted the official book, causing officials to seek outside help in determining what to do.
After the District 5 administrator made phone calls to the Little League West Region office in California, a representative there called the main office in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and officials there made a decision favoring The Dalles.
Meanwhile, coaches Jeff Schwirse, Dave Caldwell and Gritz had the unenviable task of trying to console 13 heartbroken youngsters, their parents and Hermiston fans, who were understandably upset about the controversial ruling. Hermiston won the minor district title last year, led by Gritz and Cole Schwirse and was considered as the favorite to repeat.
Hermiston dominated the contest while moving out to an early first-inning 2-0 lead when Schwirse (3-for-4, 4 RBIs) smacked a long fly ball deep towards the left field fence for a two-run double. Run-scoring singles by catcher Chase Root (2-for-3, 2 RBIs) and Gritz (2-for-2, RBI) helped extend the margin to 4-1 in the second.
Hermiston's offensive surge continued as they scored two in the third, one in the fourth and two in the fifth to take a commanding 9-1 lead.
"We played a great game and won it fair and square, but it was just an unfortunate decision by the officials that resulted in a disappointing outcome for our team," said Nychal Gritz.
"It's frustrating to see something like this happen to young kids, because of a scorekeeper's mistake that decides the outcome of a big game," said Jeff Gritz, Nychal's father.
Hermiston's All-Star majors (age 11-12) lost 9-3 to Bend South (3-1). Hermiston meets Hood River in an 8 a.m. third-place game, with Bend South facing Bend North at 11 a.m. in the championship.
In minors, Bend South meets The Dalles, with the winner facing Redmond for the title.
Hermiston's majors took a 1-0 first-inning edge on Heath Baldock's sacrifice fly, driving in Austin Kopacz, who drew a leadoff walk. They extended the margin to 2-0 in the fourth on a run-scoring double by Thomas Hamblin (2-for-2, RBI). Baldock ripped a leadoff single and pinch runner Kopacz later scored on Hamblin's line drive to left field. Bend took a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the inning with a two-out rally when Kole Kellison hammered a three-run homer over the center field fence and the next batter, Jaxson Landrus, belted a solo shot to center.
Hermiston pitcher Jesus Rosales (1-for-2, RBI) crushed a towering solo shot to center that landed on the middle of the adjacent field where Hermiston's minors were playing at the same time, making it 4-3 in the next inning. Four Hermiston hurlers - Rosales, Baldock, Joshua Helms and Kopacz were unable to silence Bend's bats, though, as they got six hits, scored five runs and went up 9-3 after five.
"We just seemed to fall apart after the consecutive Bend homers, which really hurt since we couldn't overcome the deficit," said Helms. "We were really looking forward to possibly going to the state tournament in Portland. We're very disappointed because we didn't win district, but we're hoping to get third place, since that would be much better than fourth."
"We're not done yet, the boys will come out ready to play hard again Thursday and hopefully we'll get third and that would be something to be proud of," said Matt Smith. "I feel proud of these kids, they've played well throughout the tournament and we just had one bad inning today. Maybe we didn't properly prepare the kids about how to play when they're behind and this was the first time they've trailed in a game. That might've been something that our coaches failed to do and I take full responsibility for that."
Tuesday, the Hermiston minor All-Stars beat The Dalles Green 16-5, Hermiston's major squad beat Willow Creek 6-2, and Columbia's All-Stars were eliminated from contention following a 3-2 loss to Bend South.
The highlight of the major's game, and perhaps so far in the tournament, was in the bottom of the second when Hermiston turned a rare and quite amazing triple play. With Willow Creek runners on first and third, shortstop Jesus Rosales scooped up an infield ground ball, stepped on second base then threw to Smith at first, getting the batter out. Smith quickly threw to catcher Sean Smith who tagged a runner out before reaching home plate.