HERMISTON — The storm clouds loomed ever closer as Pendleton and Murrayhill Little Leaguers warmed up for their semifinal game of the state tournament at Hermiston’s Field of Dreams Little League Complex on Tuesday. The black, opaque masses above shrouded the field in late evening darkness despite the afternoon start time.
Though thunder grumbled on all sides and the occasional stab of lightning broke out in the distance, the storm skirted Hermiston save for a light sprinkle of rain. Murrayhill filled the lull with its bats and pitching arms, though, creating its own claps of thunder.
Murrayhill downed Pendleton 4-1 to advance to the championship game of the 10/11-year-old state bracket. A combination of three pitchers for Murrayhill held Pendleton to two hits and four of the team’s six hits went for extra bases.
“This team — according to everybody else — was supposed to kill us (Tuesday),” Fell said. “We were supposed to be throttled, however you want to put it. It was supposed to be a laugher by the fourth inning.”
Pendleton nearly matched the Murrayhill squad on the mound. Starting pitchers Riley Kelm of the locals and the opponents’ Blake Sims both came out strong, allowing a run each, but unearned.
Murrayhill’s middle of the order batters brought broad shoulders and heavy swings to the plate, towering over all but a handful of the Pendleton boys. Kelm was able to keep them off balance for the better part of three innings before the potent bats caught up.
“It was a little intimidating,” Kelm said. “I’d watched them the game before and you’ve just got to hit your spots where your coaches tell you and let your defense field the ball.”
When the ball lagged over the plate an inch too much, Murrayhill pounced. In the third inning, Kode Hustler led off with a single before Sims blasted a line drive out of the park. Sims fouled off the first pitch of the at-bat with Kelm down the right field line like a laser. He choked up some and straightened the next one out straight over the center field fence for a home run.
Zack Hald and Jackson Barnum followed with two doubles that made the score 4-1.
Pendleton scored its lone run in the top half of that inning, tying things at 1-1 at the time. Austin Fell wore an inside pitch to get to first base as a hit batsmen. Aggressive base running moved him up to each corner of the diamond until he reached home on three straight wild pitches.
But that would be the last time any Round-Up City boy crossed home. Pendleton had runners on base in five of the six innings — picking up its first hit in the fifth when Fell singled in his next at bat. In the sixth inning, a two-out walk by Gabe Umbarger kept the game alive and Kaden Clark followed with a double. But the runners wouldn’t advance past second and third base as the tying run struck out looking at the plate.
Things got dicey at the end, but Murrayhill manager Brett Sims said he had confidence in his boys in a close game. They’d won big — like the opening round 10-0 blanking of Medford American — but they also knew how to win tight games — like the 3-1 victory over Reynolds on Sunday.
“I didn’t expect a blowout by either team, just really expected a good contest like we had,” Sims said. “At this point in the tournament, the teams that are left are all very good.”
Murrayhill will get to put up its feet for a few days and relax before the championship on Friday. Pendleton still has work to do if it wants to swing through the loser’s bracket for another shot at Murrayhill, the only team to best it so far. Pendleton will play on Thursday against the winner of Medford National and Reynolds. Pendleton’s game is scheduled for 4 p.m.
“I think we’ll get them next time if we can play them again,” Kelm said of Murrayhill and a potential rematch. “It was a really good game.”
Contact AJ Mazzolini at email@example.com or 541-966-0839.