Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
North Medford's Charlie Walker put forth a Houdini-esque performance Saturday before he finally ran into one jam he couldn't escape from in the sixth inning of Game 1 in a doubleheader against top-ranked Roseburg at North Medford High.
Undaunted, fellow senior Bryan Carbonell came in and picked up where Walker left off in helping the No. 8 Black Tornado stun the Indians and star pitcher Josh Graham with a 1-0 triumph in an opener that saw Roseburg strand 12 runners on base, including three stints with the bases loaded.
In Game 2 of the Southern Oregon Hybrid doubleheader, Roseburg rolled, 13-0 in five innings.
Walker struck out nine and allowed three hits with seven walks in 51/3 innings before dislocating his right pinky finger on a diving attempt following a popped up sacrifice bunt try by James Leach.
Despite the painful injury, Walker still had the presence of mind to use his left hand to toss the ball to catcher Austin Zavala, who threw a strike to second base to get the lead runner.
Carbonell stepped right in to protect the Black Tornado's 1-0 lead with a strikeout and flyout to cap the sixth, then escaped a bases-loaded jam of his own in the seventh with runner's interference for the second out and then a strikeout of Jared Priestley.
"Game 1 was a great effort by both pitchers, really," said Roseburg head coach Troy Thompson. "I was very impressed with Josh, and at the same time, Charlie Walker was fantastic and competed very well and did a great job. Sometimes you have to tip your cap and he certainly did a great job in that game before his injury, and then Carbonell comes in and does a good job as well."
"They happened to get one (run) there (in the fifth inning) and we didn't with all those guys left on base, so that was a frustrating first game for sure," added Thompson.
A potential sweep was put out of question with four first-inning runs in Game 2, and Roseburg (17-2, 8-1 SOH) kept the pressure on for a split.
"I'm happy to get a split but I'm disappointed not to get two at the same time because we're always fighting to win," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe, whose team moved to 13-5 and 5-4 in SOH play.
Mixing his curveball and changeup with good placement on his fastball, Walker did his best to keep the heavy-hitting Indians at bay in the opener.
After two walks and a single loaded the bases in the second inning, the right-hander secured three straight strikeouts to escape. In the third, a leadoff double by Connor Newell went for naught when Walker fanned two and, after an intentional walk to Graham, induced a comebacker for the final out. With the bases again loaded after three straight two-out walks in the fourth, Walker struck out David Irvine to deny Roseburg.
"I was impressed with Charlie's demeanor and the ability to pitch after he gave up some bases on balls," said Wolfe. "He came back and threw quality pitches in key situations so we could play defense."
"He's got good stuff," added the coach. "He throws a heavy ball which sinks and he gets a lot of groundballs with a great changeup and curveball, so we knew if he was around the plate we'd have a shot. I knew he'd give us an opportunity to win if we could push one across."
Graham allowed a two-out double to Micah Brown in the first inning but otherwise was on top of his game through four innings to match Walker's effort. The Oregon-bound senior finished with 10 strikeouts and no walks in a three-hitter, but a leadoff double to Hayden Evans in the fifth came back to haunt the hard-throwing right-hander.
With Evans on second, Zavala came through with a one-out sacrifice bunt to put the junior on third, and Evans scored soon after when Graham put a breaking ball in the dirt that got away from the catcher Leach to allow the game's only run.
The rest was up to Walker and Carbonell, who had been warming up for about two innings before Walker's injury forced him to move over from third base with one out and one on in the sixth.
"It's unfortunate what happened to Charlie, and we want him back as soon possible," said Wolfe, "but fortunately for us we had Bryan ready and he was in the right mindset and we just were fortunate to beat a very, very good team. Bryan's been there all year for us and has been able to locate all three of his pitches, so he's always confident."
Carbonell was part of the most unusual play in the opener when, with the bases loaded in the seventh, he induced a weak chopper up the first baseline by Mike Morin. Carbonell got the ball on the infield grass and wheeled to relay a throw home to deny the tying run when Morin collided with the pitcher on his way to first base.
That interference call forced the runners back to their bases and created the second out in the seventh, and then Carbonell struck out Priestley on four pitches to send North's players into a frenzied celebration.
"That's what baseball's about, it's about competing and putting yourself in those pressure situations and rising to the occasion," Wolfe said of Carbonell's composure down the stretch.
In Game 2, Priestley pitched a four-hitter and led a hit parade with a three-run double in the first inning and two-run single in the fifth. Graham also plated three runs in a game dominated by the focused Indians.
"We got good pitching once again and played solid defense but the difference, obviously, was at the plate where we were able to score four runs in the first inning and let that momentum carry us right through the fifth inning," said Thompson.
Roseburg 000 000 0 — 0 4 0
North Medford 000 010 x — 1 3 2
Graham and Leach; Walker, Carbonell (6) and Zavala. W — Walker (2-1). L — Graham (6-1). S — Carbonell (1). 2B — R: Newell; NM: Brown, H. Evans.
Roseburg 420 25 — 13 10 0
North Medford 000 00 — 0 4 2
Priestley and Graham; Westfall, H. Evans (3), Brown (5) and Zavala, Hyrst (5). W — Priestley (6-0). L — Westfall (3-2). 2B — R: Priestley, Newell, Graham. 3B — R: Nelson.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry