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...
South Medford suffered an ugly end to an already disappointing season Tuesday, committing a season-high eight errors to hamper any chance at victory against Century in a Class 6A baseball state play-in game at Harry & David Field.
Panthers senior Nate Namanny allowed only one earned run but was still saddled with a 6-1 loss that closed out South Medford's season one win shy of the state playoffs.
Two passed balls by sophomore catcher Austin White and the first of five errors by senior second baseman Kirk Eastman led to a pair of second-inning runs that proved to be more than enough against a Panther team that was only 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Jaguars starter Brad Bennett.
"We just didn't get it done today and that's the most disappointing thing is we just didn't even come close to playing the game of baseball the way we needed to play it to compete against a good team," said third-year South Medford head coach Ray Smith. "We don't really deserve to move on if you can't defend the baseball and play catch when you need to play catch and hit with runners in scoring position."
The game's first play resulted in an error when junior first baseman Joe Cooney was unable to corral a grounder to his right to set an ominous tone, but the Panthers (8-16) found a way to get out of the jam when a flyout to left fielder Pat Alexander was turned into a double play against the overzealous Jaguars.
It went that way for most of the contest for Namanny, who had a two-hitter through six innings despite routinely having to pitch longer into each inning due to errors. The standout left-hander struck out three, walked three, hit one batter and allowed three of his five hits in the final frame.
"Nate got kinda tired there toward the end I think," said Smith, "but he still was under 100 pitches believe it or not because he's so efficient and effective with the pitches he does throw. He was certainly getting frustrated there without having a lot of support behind him."
"He always gives us a chance to win the game, though, and that's all you can ask for in a pitcher," added the coach. "It's really going to be tough to see him go. He's a competitive kid and he's irreplaceable."
Namanny also scored his team's only run in the fourth inning to cut South Medford's deficit to 2-1. He hit a one-out single to center field and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Nate Walker that was thrown away by the catcher. Both runners advanced on Austin Reames' sacrifice bunt and South caught a bit of a break when third baseman Tyler Jorgensen committed a throwing error on a potential inning-ending grounder by Zach Smith that allowed Namanny to score.
The chance at possibly storming back went away soon after, however, as Century (9-17) answered with a run in the top of the fifth on a hit batter, two wild pitches and an RBI single by Tanner Cole. Prior to the wildness, Namanny also helped negate Eastman's third error with a pickoff move that ultimately resulted in an out thanks to Eastman's quick reactions on a loose ball at second base.
"I'm thinking we're down 2-1 and there's no chance we're going to continue to boot the ball around and we're going to pull it together," Smith said of his thoughts entering the fifth inning. "Unfortunately, it didn't get any better, it got worse."
The Jaguars broke the game open in the seventh with a two-out rally that included a pair of singles and a back-breaking two-run double by Lauden Lusey after Eastman's fifth error of the game. The senior had committed only six errors all season entering Tuesday's game.
"We just didn't come out and play like we should've today," said Namanny. "I feel bad for Kirk, especially, because that is not what he's like. He's a hard worker, it just wasn't our day today. They played a good game but we were out there for too long on defense."
"We seemed to have enough energy coming out but I don't know," added the Azusa Pacific-bound left-hander, "once the errors started happening we all just started getting down on each other and it was just an uphill battle."
Eastman was 2-for-3 to pace the Panthers offensively, with Adrian Garcia limited to a 1-for-4 effort despite putting four hard-hit balls in play from the leadoff spot. Both South players belted doubles against Bennett, who got key defensive help when left fielder Sam Bates made a diving catch of a Garcia liner in the first and made a leaping catch at the left field wall on a one-out drive by Taren Bradd with Eastman on second in the fifth.
"We hit the ball hard quite a bit and they made some great plays," said coach Smith. "They deserved to win and good luck to them. We seemed to have guys in position to score and we just didn't get that key hit when we needed it or they made the big key play when they needed it."
Century, the No. 6 team from the Pacific Conference, advances to the state playoffs and will play a road opener on Monday.
Century 020 010 3 — 6 5 2
South Medford 000 100 0 — 1 6 8
Bennett and Lusey; Namanny and White. W — Bennett. L — Namanny (3-6). 2B — C: Lusey; SM: Eastman, Garcia.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry