More than three decades of near-misses, almosts, there-is-always-next years, of tough luck seasons and coming up short against the Beaverton-area bluebloods boiled down to one championship game for Beaverton-Aloha Little League.
Beaverton-Aloha's best shot to win a District Four banner and erase more than 30 years of early playoff exits came into view on Tuesday night when a combination of Beaverton and Aloha's best 11 and 12-year old players took on Raleigh Hills, also an underdog, in the D4 title game at Alpenrose Stadium.
In the balance for Beaverton-Aloha hung a chance to rewrite a once hackneyed narrative. For Raleigh Hills, it was an opportunity to once again return to the state level as they had in the past.
But, ultimately, Beaverton-Aloha's destiny could not be blocked.
Deadlocked in a 2-2 extra inning affair after some fifth inning magic from Raleigh Hills evened the scored up at deuces, Beaverton-Aloha scored twice in the top of the seventh including the go-ahead single from shortstop Eric Altmark to grab a 4-2 lead. Altmark took the ball in the bottom half of the seventh and closed the door on Raleigh Hills with the bases loaded to seal the contest and Beaverton-Aloha's first district title since the 1980's with the 4-2 triumph.
"I'm speechless...we're going down in history," Eric Altmark said with a smile. "We put in so much hard work...I don't have the words to explain what just happened. It was just so fun. We lost in the championship game two years ago in 9/10 ball and this just feels so much better to say we finally did it. It was a total team effort."
To get ready for the district tournament itself, Beaverton-Aloha and Raleigh Hills each practiced three hours a day, six days a week the past month on top of hitting regularly throughout the winter. The culmination of toil, hard work and for Beaverton-Aloha, history, all came together at Alpenrose Stadium during the D4 tournament beginning with pool play and extending into elimination territory.
"It feels really good, I can't thank the team enough," Beaverton-Aloha centerfielder Nate Foster said. "We put so much hard work into this tournament — too many practices to count. It's just an amazing feeling."
"This team has been playing with and against each other for years and they love each other," Beaverton-Aloha head coach Asa Altmark said. "We wanted to win this badly. Our league hasn't won the district in so long. This team had that on their shoulders and they wanted to be the team to do it. We've been thinking about this for a while."
Raleigh Hills was the hard-luck runner-up in a district that yearly churns out state contenders. Raleigh Hills head coach Chris Budke said his squad was overlooked all summer long, but came out swinging the last week or so and went on a memorable run to reach the title tilt.
"Any time you make it to the championship, you have to be proud of that," Budke said. "These kids never got nervous. I think the coaches got more nervous than they did. They just continued to battle. They bonded off the field incredibly well, too. They enjoyed each other. Sometimes you get teams that don't gel. And to take what these kids did, when nobody believed in them...this is on them. They're the reason we got this far."
It was a classic championship game — two extremely well-coached, well-oiled teams hungry to reach state, to represent their district and put on for the dark horses. Each squad played at its peak in the win-or-go-home scenario. Defensive web gems were abundant by both sides. Raleigh Hills starting pitcher Jake Lairson threw a gem (5 and 2/3 innings while allowing just two runs) and Beaverton-Aloha ace Kadin Kingsbury came up clutch with four quality innings of one-run ball. Pivotal base hits, while not as profuse because of the great pitching, were nearly equal.
In the top of the first, Beaverton-Aloha's Alisjah Tucker stole second and advanced to third on a Raleigh Hills overthrow. The capitalization set up the left-handed hitting Eric Altmark who clubbed on opposite field liner double to left to score Tucker and give Beaverton-Aloha a 1-0 lead. Beaverton-Aloha second baseman Blake Potoshnik, hitting with one out and Eric Altmark on third, did his job to the letter, slapping a fielder's choice to the right side of the infield that scored Eric Altmark standing up and extended Beaverton-Aloha's lead to 2-0.
Lairson and Kingsbury traded zeroes for the next two stanzas until the bottom of the fourth when Raleigh Hills' Henry Geweke scored on a fielder's choice to slice Beaverton-Aloha's edge to 2-1. Raleigh Hills maintained the momentum in the fifth with infield singles from Jesse and Barrett Lindholm with just one out.
Raleigh Hills' Brady Rice smashed a single to center but Foster came up gunning near the warning track and flung a frozen rope home to nab Jesse Lindholm at home for the second out to prevent the tying run from crossing.
"He has a cannon and throws it with perfect accuracy — there was no doubt (the throw) was going to make it there," Eric Altmark said of Foster's fire.
Beaverton-Aloha intentionally walked Geweke to load the bases to bring up Ty Budke. Maddox Brown, who came in for Kingsbury with nobody out and one man on base in the fifth, worked Budke into a 0-1 count. But, as Brown turned his back turned toward home plate and walked back to the mound after his first strike, Raleigh Hills was able to cause a surge of commotion on the basepaths, which gave Barrett Lindholm enough time to dash home and score the tying run.
Beaverton-Aloha caught the lead runner in a pickle between the bases for the third out, but since the run scored before the out was recorded, the district championship was all knotted up at 2-2 heading into the sixth.
"Barrett's a sneaky kid who can time it out and go when he thinks he can go," Budke said. "He's done that his whole life. You put the game in the kids' hands and they'll make the plays."
Beaverton-Aloha's lock-solid defense continued to bear fruit in the sixth. Raleigh Hills' Nathan Aviles singled, and Noah Koopman hit a liner back up the middle off Brown's midsection that bounced to Beaverton-Aloha third basemen Edgar Angeles who tried to nab Koopman at first but was a half second late. With nobody covering third, Aviles made a break for the bag, but the heads up Eric Altmark beat him there, caught the high across-the-diamond throw and planted the tag on Aviles for the critical third out to send the game to extra innings. As all eyes were focused on the chaos both on the mound and at first, Altmark sagely sprinted to third and was in perfect position for the bang-bang tag at the bag.
Tucker led off the seventh with an infield single and scooted to second on a subsequent error. And Eric Altmark followed by hustling out another infield single which forced an errant throw to first and let Tucker score from second to go up 3-2. Chris Harker's sacrifice fly scored the speedy Altmark standing up and extended Beaverton-Aloha's lead to 4-2.
"In this tournament, we've got a lot of runs late," Eric Altmark said. "And it's always been a team effort no matter the time or place."
Raleigh Hills wasn't finished, however, not even with Altmark coming on in the bottom of the seventh to close it down. Raleigh Hills' Jesse Lindholm and Austin Wolfe both reached on bunt singles with Beaverton-Aloha's infield playing back. And, Barrett Lindholm moved both runners into scoring position with a fielder's choice. However, Altmark struck out Rice and walked Geweke intentionally to avoid the slugger and load the bases with two outs on the board. Altmark struck out Ty Budke on three pitches to send Beaverton-Aloha to the state tournament.
Beaverton-Aloha advances to the state tournament in La Grande beginning this weekend. They'll be the newcomer to a bracket that's annually loaded with great programs from around the state, including those juggernauts from Bend who have dominated the state scene the past eight years or so. For the rookies, this is foreign terrain. Yet, the onus is simply on having fun, making lifelong memories and hopefully making some noise against Oregon's elite.
"Everything past now is just icing on the cake," Asa Altmark said.
"It's just another tournament, we're just going to try and keep getting 'W's'," Eric Altmark said.