Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Nate Namanny admittedly wasn't at his best Monday in terms of his control on the mound, but he was definitely at his best when it came to competing for the South Medford baseball team.
Eight of Namanny's first 11 pitches against North Medford in the Southern Oregon Hybrid baseball tilt were out of the strike zone and he only marginally improved that ratio for the remainder of a game that also featured a 30-minute lightning delay.
Even so, the senior left-hander was able to help guide the Panthers to a much-needed, 5-1 triumph — their first in seven conference contests.
"Getting through this game was definitely hard, it took pretty much all my effort," said Namanny, who allowed three hits, walked six and struck out five. "I really had no control over any of my pitches, but I just tried to go out there and compete to the best of my ability. I wasn't going for any strikeouts, I was trying to let them hit the ball and let my defense do the work."
If there was anything that separated the two Medford teams on Monday, it was that last part.
South Medford (5-10, 1-6 SOH) played flawless defense in support of Namanny, including three sensational catches in center field by Daniel Jimenez, while North Medford (11-4, 3-3) uncharacteristically committed six errors to hinder its cause.
Black Tornado freshman Colton Westfall pitched well enough to gain the win in a matchup that originally was to be played last Tuesday but encountered three rainouts. Westfall allowed three hits through six innings, striking out nine with five walks and one hit batter to suffer his first high school defeat.
"Colton threw strikes, changed speeds and did just what he was supposed to do," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe. "We just didn't play well behind him and gave them a few too many extra outs and a few too many opportunities."
The game started with North senior second baseman Charlie Walker's errant throw to first base on a routine grounder by Kirk Eastman, who came around to score on an RBI single by Taren Bradd. Pat Alexander, who had walked, and Bradd then each advanced one extra base when center fielder Christian Gillis misplayed Bradd's hit and had to retreat to gather it in. Namanny followed with a single to right field for a 2-0 Panther lead.
"We haven't had a lead pretty much the whole year," said Namanny, who on Sunday committed to play baseball next season at Azusa Pacific. "We've always been fighting to come back so it was really nice to get out to a good start and score some quick runs."
Namanny's erratic start put Taylor Raff and Bryan Carbonell on base in the blink of an eye for the Black Tornado, and a sacrifice bunt by Micah Brown set the stage for a sacrifice fly by Walker to cut North's deficit in half.
That 2-1 score held up for the bulk of the contest, but Jimenez had as much to do with that as anyone. The senior made a nice sliding grab of a shot to the gap by Raff in the bottom of the third, then kept the tying run at bay later in the inning with a headfirst dive on a shallow looper by Walker for the final out.
"He was fortunate to get a great jump on that ball and he left it on the field there," South Medford head coach Ray Smith said. "We don't make that play, it's a 2-2 game and the whole momentum can change on that. What a tremendous play that was and it really gave us a spark."
Jimenez also tracked down a line drive to the gap by Brown in the bottom of the fifth for a final out that left Raff stranded on second base.
The Panthers tacked on three more runs in the sixth when Namanny walked and advanced to third on an errant throw by third baseman Carbonell on a grounder by Jack Walker. After a sacrifice bunt by Nate Walker, pinch-hitter Adrian Garcia walked to load the bases and Eastman was hit by a pitch to make it 3-1. Eric Wallan followed with a two-run single to right field for a 5-1 advantage.
Namanny left another runner stranded on second base in the bottom of the sixth and shook off a pair of one-out walks to get a strikeout and a comebacker by Brown to clinch the win in the seventh.
"Everytime Nate goes out he gives us everything he's got," said Smith. "He worked through some tough spots there, especially early before that delay, and we made some defensive plays that really helped him.
"We certainly didn't play a perfect game, but we did enough to beat a very, very good team, and you always can take satisfaction in that."
Entering Monday, the SOH dominated the top of the Class 6A power rankings, with Roseburg (No. 1), Crater (No. 2), North Medford (No. 6) and Grants Pass (No. 8) all among the top 10 teams. South Medford was 18th.
South Medford 200 003 0 — 5 3 0
North Medford 100 000 0 — 1 3 6
Namanny and J. Walker; Westfall, H. Evans (7) and Zavala, Hyrst (7). W — Namanny (2-4). L — Westfall (3-1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry