NORTH BEND — As funny as it may sound, the North Medford American Legion A baseball team's opening-round loss in the state tournament might have been the best thing that could have happened to the Mavericks.
With one loss hanging over their heads for the entirety of the double-elimination event, the Mavericks had one option if they intended to stay in the title hunt: to hit their peak.
North Medford (50-17) did just that, beating La Grande 6-0 and then topping Area 4 rival Central Point 4-3 in the state championship game at Clyde Allen Baseball Park on Sunday.
"Baseball is a game of intangibles," North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe said. "We played an elimination game every day but — it sounds funny — but it actually made us play better. It gave us a sense of urgency and helped us focus."
Brett Pearson, who had missed much of the season due to multiple injuries, pitched shutout ball against La Grande to set the tone for tournament MVP David Crofton's performance against Crater (47-8).
Crofton went the distance and, in the bottom of the seventh inning, retired the side in order to seal the victory for the Mavericks. He limited the Comets to just three runs — two earned — on four hits, two walks and one hit batter to go with a pair of strikeouts.
Crofton received what were the eventual game-deciding runs from Austin Zavala in the bottom of the fifth inning. Zavala drove home Troy Fowler, then later scored a run on a wild pitch to put North up 4-1.
Those runs proved key. With one out in the top of the sixth, Anthony Martin delivered a two-run double down the line to slice the Mavericks' lead to 4-3.
"That's a very, very good Crater team and they're very well coached," said Wolfe. "We were just fortunate enough to get a few more breaks than they did."
The Comets struck first with a third-inning RBI single by Blake Fahndrich, but Zavala's run-scoring single in the bottom of the frame knotted the score 1-all.
In the bottom of the fourth, Christian Gillis plated Micah Brown on a 1-1 fastball with a one-hop double to the right field wall.
The victory improved Crofton to 2-0 in the tournament and 8-1 on the season.
Zavala went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and scored once for the Mavericks, while Brown, Pearson and Fowler each had a pair of hits and scored a run.
Fahndrich finished 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI for the Comets.
Against La Grande, Pearson stole the limelight for the Mavericks.
He avoided the threat of a comeback by La Grande by getting the Mavericks out of a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the top of the sixth. Pearson fanned the first batter, induced the next to pop out to the catcher Zavala and struck the final batter out looking to escape.
"He really stepped up big for us," said Mavericks assistant coach Hayden Wolfe. "We wanted to see what he could do and he really stepped up. This wasn't an average team. They (La Grande) could really hit the ball around."
Pearson pitched seven shutout innings, allowing seven hits to go with four strikeouts.
"Pearson started it off for us with a really good pitching performance setting the tone for the rest of the day," said Brett Wolfe." He pitched a big ball game for us today and David continued that."
The Mavericks, who have totaled 67 games this summer, will try to keep that momentum going as they are assured at least two more in the regional tournament, which runs Aug. 10-14 in Burley, Idaho.
Brown and Josh Berman both went 2-for-3 and scored a run. Berman added a two-out RBI single in the fifth inning.
La Grande 000 000 0 — 0 7 3
North Medford 031 020 x — 6 8 1
Kelly and Davis; Pearson and Zavala. W — Pearson. L — Kelly. 2B — NM: Crofton.
Crater 001 002 0 — 3 4 0
North Medford 001 120 x — 4 9 1
Fahndrich, Pardee (5), Fox (6) and Aplin; Crofton and Zavala. W — Crofton (8-1). L — Fahndrich. 2B — NM: Gillis; CP: Martin.