Photo by Mike Weber
OILERS PLAYERS pick themselves up after dogpiling at second base following Brandon Rivera’s walk-off double Sunday afternoon during the semifinal game of an eight-team tournament held in Hood River. The Oilers, an American Legion team, edged Northwest Futures 10-9 in extra innings during the semifinals, but lost 3-2 to Newberg in the title game later that day.
The Carson Oil-sponsored Hood River Oilers American Legion baseball team enjoyed tremendous success in winning three of four games in an eight-team tournament June 16-18 at Hood River Valley High School’s Traner Field.
The Oilers, guided by new head coach James Nygren, won three straight contests to advance to Sunday evening’s Father’s Day championship game. Despite a 3-2 loss to Newberg’s 18U Oregon Independent Baseball Association (OIBA) squad in the title game, it capped an overall fantastic performance in the three-day event for the Oilers.
“We played very well in the championship game and we had our chances against a much more experienced Newberg team, but we just came up a little short,” said Nygren. “I couldn’t be more proud of this good group of guys that we have. They worked really hard all weekend, they were committed to having an excellent tournament and the way they came together as a team was good to see. We’re building a culture within the team that I think is going to be something special in the years to come. There’s a really bright future ahead for this group and I’m just really glad to be a part of it.”
The Oilers started the tournament with a 6-5 win Friday over Portland Eastside. HRVHS incoming senior Trenton Hough pitched five scoreless innings to help lead the Oilers to the win. Brandon Smiley (double, RBI), Chris McElwee (RBI), Ryan Gray (single, run scored) and Jose Santillan (single, run) combined to lead the Oiler offense. Jeremiah Brittle scored the game-winning run on a passed ball to help provide the Oilers with the victory.
On Saturday, Hood River recorded a 10-2 win over Ridgefield to advance to the semifinals of the tournament against Portland’s Northwest Futures (5-5). Sunday’s noon semi was an exciting seesaw battle with four lead changes and four tie scores. It was a thrilling extra-inning contest that the Oilers pulled out on Brandon Rivera’s game-winning, walk-off RBI double to center field for a 10-9 win in eight innings.
“It was a pretty big hit,” said Rivera, an incoming junior playing his first year on the Oilers. “It was definitely an exciting way to conclude the game. I felt pretty excited, because it was the first time I’ve ever had a game-winning hit at this level of my baseball career. We kind of lost our momentum early in the game and then we came back. That’s the way it goes and you never know what’s going to happen in baseball.”
The Oilers came out and had the early momentum as starting pitcher Gray had a solid four-inning stint on the mound and he helped hold the Futures scoreless the first three innings. Smiley (4-for-4, three doubles, single, five RBIs) ignited the offense while hitting RBI doubles in both the first and third innings to help Hood River build a 2-0 lead after three.
“I felt pretty good with starting, but I think the velocity on my pitches started to go down as the game continued and my arm just got a little tired,” said Gray, an incoming sophomore. “We just continued battling and the game went back and forth with lead changes, so it was just a great game. It was awesome for us to have Trenton on the mound at the end of the game to help us pull out the win. He’s a hard-throwing pitcher that we can rely on to help lead our defense. This is a blast being on the team and hanging out with all my friends. I was on the Oilers team last year, but this year is so much different. Last year we were more concerned about just practicing to help improve our team. This year we’re more focused on winning games. Everyone wants to win and that’s the mentality that we all have this year.”
The Futures fought back with three runs in the fourth and a run in the fifth to go ahead 4-2. Hood River responded in the bottom half of the fifth, highlighted by Smiley’s RBI single and Isaac Beman’s RBI single to regain the advantage at 5-4.
The seesaw game continued in the sixth with another lead change as the Futures scored four runs to go up 8-5. Hood River answered with four runs in the bottom half, highlighted by Smiley’s two RBI double and an RBI sacrifice groundout by Michael Hasagawa (3-for-5, three singles, two runs scored) to regain the advantage at 9-8.
NW Futures battled back again, knotting it 9-9 in the top of the seventh and the Oilers were unable to score in the bottom half as the game went into extra innings. The tiebreaker formula consists of each team automatically having a runner at second base at the beginning of the inning.
Hough, the Oilers relief pitcher who went to the mound in the seventh, struck out two of three batters to thwart a possible scoring threat when the Futures had two baserunners in the top of the eighth inning.
“It sure was a very close game, but we made the key plays to pull out the win,” said Hough, who played on the HRV varsity baseball team this spring. “The tiebreaker definitely puts a lot of pressure on your team. You just can’t make any mistakes, because it could cost you a win. It feels good to be playing in the championship game of the tournament. I’m really having a lot of fun being on the Oilers team this year and we have a great group of guys who enjoy playing baseball together.”
McElwee was inserted at second base to begin the Oilers half of the inning. McElwee advanced to third on Hasegawa’s sacrifice groundout at first, setting the plate for Rivera’s game-ending heroic effort. Rivera (2-for-4, single, double, walk) hammered a ball deep to center field for a double, driving home McElwee, who scored the game-winning run to conclude the thrilling contest.
“It was our goal on Friday to advance to the championship game and that was the mindset the guys had all weekend in this tournament,” said Nygren, who is also an HRV varsity baseball assistant coach. “We accomplished our goal and I’m really proud of the boys for what they’ve done and I’ve enjoyed seeing how much they’ve grown together as a team the last three days. This is my first season coaching the Oilers and I‘m having a blast. I love being on the baseball field and working with our coaching staff and this group of kids. I wouldn’t want to be coaching anywhere else.”
The Oilers next contest is June 27 when they’ll host the Portland American Legion squad at 5 p.m. at Traner Field. The Oilers summer league regular season concludes July 23.