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...
It took until the 18th game of the season for South Medford to play beyond the seventh inning but the Panthers apparently enjoyed that extra-inning taste so much that they hungered for more of the same Saturday against North Medford.
Exactly one week after squandering a seven-run, seventh-inning lead at Grants Pass before ultimately winning 17-16 in nine innings, South Medford found itself in another pair of nine-inning contests Saturday at Harry & David Field.
This time, however, it was South Medford that needed to rally to force extra innings, but the result remained the same for the Panthers as they wore down North Medford for 6-5 and 2-1 victories that each lasted nine innings.
The Black Tornado had been 5-0 in extra-inning games heading into the Southern Oregon Hybrid doubleheader.
"That was definitely amazing," said South Medford senior Nate Namanny, who was the winning pitcher and had the walk-off single in Game 2. "I don't think we've ever had back-to-back extra-inning games so that was really weird. It turned out in our way but they definitely fought us hard throughout the entire time."
North Medford (14-7, 5-6 SOH) took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning in the opening game before South Medford (8-13, 4-8) answered with one run in the sixth and four more in the seventh to extend the game.
"It just kind of got away from us," said North Medford senior Charlie Walker, the Game 1 starter who faced only one batter over the minimum for the first five innings. "We went into the seventh inning probably thinking we had it already but they came back and tied it up. For the most part the whole first game was solid until that very last inning. They just kinda crept up on us and it kinda bit us."
With two outs in the ninth inning of Game 1, Kirk Eastman singled to center field and scored moments later when Taren Bradd sent a 1-1 pitch from relief pitcher Bryan Carbonell off the left-field wall for a walk-off double.
"I just had to suck it up for my team because I haven't been doing that good lately," said Bradd, who entered the game hitting .250 and had gone 0-for-3 with an intentional walk prior to his key blast. "I wanted a line drive up the middle and when I hit it I thought it was a pop-up but then it went to the fence."
The buildup was a little more methodical in Game 2 but that had more to do with the sensational starting pitching of Namanny and North freshman Colton Westfall, who each went all nine innings. Namanny wound up allowing three hits with nine strikeouts and two walks — both in the top of the ninth — while Westfall allowed two of his five hits in the ninth to go with four strikeouts and one walk.
The fact that each pitcher was on his game wasn't lost on Namanny, who allowed a first-inning run but that was it. Westfall's only runs against him came in the second and ninth innings.
"After a while, I kinda made it a little competition between us, just to see who was going to give up the first run," said Namanny. "Man, that kid (Westfall) can compete. For a freshman he's the real deal, but it was good to see that our team came out on top and that little competition went in my favor this time."
Both pitchers were hindered by hit batters, with Namanny plunking Carbonell in the first and Westfall doing likewise after a great battle with Eastman in the ninth.
Namanny nearly erased Carbonell with a pickoff move to first base but the Tornado senior eluded a tag to slide into second base. Walker followed with a two-out RBI single to left field for North's short-lived lead.
In the bottom of the second, Namanny singled and courtesy runner Daniel Jimenez stole second and advanced to third when shortstop Taylor Raff couldn't handle the throw from catcher Austin Zavala. Designated hitter Joe Cooney followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
The Panthers had more opportunities to score negated in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings of Game 2, with the sophomore Zavala coming up with several key efforts to keep South at bay.
With runners on second and third in the fifth, Zavala made a pair of nice stops on balls in the dirt from Westfall to keep anyone from scoring and then North got out of the jam with a groundout. The Panthers got the leadoff batter on base in the sixth and seventh, only to see them wiped out when Zavala threw out both runners as they attempted to steal second.
In the bottom of the ninth, however, Westfall opened by hitting Eastman on a 2-2 count that saw the South slugger fight off four pitches before being beaned in the helmet. Bradd, down 0-2 in the count, then reached out and poked a flare over second base to put runners on first and second. Pat Alexander followed with a sacrifice bunt that saw Westfall try in vain to get the lead runner at third. With the bases loaded, Namanny slapped a 2-1 pitch into left field for the game-winner.
"I just tried to go with the pitch," he said. "It was high and outside so I just tried to shoot it over there into left field and it worked out."
The late-inning heroics allowed South to sweep a doubleheader from North for the first time since 2006. It also marked the first time the Panthers have swept a three-game season series against the Black Tornado, and put a dent in North's hopes for a top-four Class 6A power ranking and home-field advantage for most of the state playoffs. North was ranked fourth heading into Saturday's twin bill, while South was 24th.
"That's baseball," said Black Tornado head coach Brett Wolfe of the extra-inning defeats. "It's disappointing and I feel bad for our kids but at the same time there were some good things that happened. We'll come right back and work to be better the next day."
Micah Brown and Walker each had two-run hits in a four-run sixth inning against South freshman starter Josh Berman in the opener.
Eastman's RBI single in the sixth came despite a nice diving attempt by Brown in center field, and South used a leadoff single by Namanny and a pair of flares by Cooney and Jack Walker to load the bases against Charlie Walker in the seventh. The Panthers followed with RBI efforts by Eric Wallan (walk), Zach Smith (single) and Eastman (groundout) to tie the opener at 5-all.
North Medford 010 004 000 — 5 6 1
South Medford 000 001 401 — 6 8 1
C. Walker, Carbonell (7) and Zavala; Berman, Cooney (6) and J. Walker. W — Cooney (1-2). L — Carbonell (6-1). 2B — NM: Walker; SM: Bradd. 3B — NM: J. Evans.
North Medford 100 000 000 — 1 3 2
South Medford 010 000 001 — 2 5 3
Westfall and Zavala; Namanny and J. Walker. W — Namanny (3-5). L — Westfall (3-3). 2B — SM: Reames.