HERMISTON - As far as state championship games go, Tuesday's duel between Pendleton and Tualatin Hills had everything.
Not only was it a rematch, complete with two comebacks and an unlikely hero, but the final run crossed the plate in the bottom of the seventh to give Tualatin the 9-8 victory and the North Oregon State title.
The teams faced each other on Friday to open the tournament, where Tualatin won 6-4.
In Tuesday's championship game Tualatin rallied for six runs in the first inning, putting together seven hits before Pendleton could get the third out and get back to the plate.
"We got right out there and started hitting right away," Tualatin coach Chris Cronk said. "But we knew then it was going to be a long game. We knew we couldn't rest on six runs."
The 6-0 lead only seemed to give Pendleton determination, and the squad put up four runs in the second to get back into the contest.
Pitcher Shawn Simpson also found his groove as a reliever called for in the first inning, and retired 14 of 15 Tualatin batters through the middle innings. The one runner to reach was John Richter, who made it to first on an error.
"Maybe the lead got to their heads a little bit, or maybe it was just a new pitcher giving us a different look," Cronk said. "But we kept letting them know there's more game left, we still had time to pull it out."
Pendleton added four more runs in the fourth inning, giving themselves an 8-6 lead and seemingly all the momentum as Tualatin's offensive production seized up.
"We dug ourselves the hole, and we knew all we had to do was dig ourselves back out of it one run at a time," Pendleton coach Rich Lebsock said. "They did and got ahead and things started working."
In the sixth inning Tualatin built a rally on a walk and an error, and managed to score two runs on RBI's by Richter and relief pitcher Miles Richard.
Pendleton failed to take the lead in the top of the seventh, and heading into the home half the game was in Tualatin's hands.
"Miles is a level-headed kid, a great kid, and what more can you ask for," Cronk said of his reliever, who earned the win. "He came into a tough spot and put us in a position to win."
"I was a little bit nervous," the hurler added. "I never get nervous, but this is the one time I was."
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Ryan Howard - who was 0 for 2 with three ground outs in the game - smacked a double down the left field line to put himself in scoring position.
"I was up in the count and was just trying to get a piece of it," Howard said. "He threw me a curve ball and I drove it."
Howard advanced to third on failed pick off attempt during Jake Norling's at-bat, then scampered home to score the winning run on a ground ball to second base.
The Pendleton bench had a mixed reaction to the loss, but most felt it should have been them with the big trophy at the end of the night.
"I think they were a little tired from playing (at 1 p.m.)," said Daniel Lebsock, who missed the first four days of the tournament recovering from Tommy John surgery. "After we gave up all those runs we really started hitting the ball. They're a good team, but I think we should have won."
Lebsock represented the team's desire to win in the fourth inning, when he moved from first to third on a passed ball and scored on another errant pitch.
"You've got to play hard, you know," he explained. "It's the state championship."
"These guys really wanted to win the game," Pendleton coach Brian Whitten added. "They talked about it all day and were excited to play. But a few mistakes and some good breaks for (Tualatin) and that's the game."
Tualatin will represent North Oregon at the Pacific Northwest Regional Tournament in Meridian, Idaho beginning this weekend. Last year the same squad finished second at the 13-year-old North Oregon state tournament to Snake River Valley.
R H E
PENDLETON 040 400 0 - 8 7 3
TUALATIN 600 002 1 - 9 9 4
Jeff Eickstaedt, Shawn Simpson (1), Wyatt Whitten (7) and Daniel Lebsock. Jeremy Cronk, Miles Richard (5) and Alex Roth. W - RIchard. L - Whitten.
2B - Richard, Howard (Tualatin Hills).