The first game of any regional tournament is always a bit mysterious, Jami Hanson explains.
"You just never know much about that other team," says the head baseball coach of an American Legion Class A team in Montana.
WHAT: An opening-round matchup between the Oregon state champion and Montana state champion in the eight-team, double-elimination regional tournament in Burley, Idaho.
WHEN: Friday, 3:30 p.m. Pacific, at Burley High.
He and his Mission Valley squad (51-7) will learn on the fly — and so will the North Medford Mavericks (49-17) — as they face each other in the opening round of the eight-team Northwest Regional tournament at 3:30 p.m. Pacific on Friday in Burley, Idaho.
Hanson isn't without a connection to Medford though. He was once college roommates with current North Medford High softball coach Mike Mayben at Western Baptist Bible College (now Corban University).
And North Medford Mavericks head coach Brett Wolfe isn't unfamiliar with Montana: his last team to advance to regionals played a Montana squad in the first round in 2006. Matt Maurer — who now pitches at Pepperdine — was just 14 years old, but struck out 15 in nine innings to propel the Mavericks past the Bitterroot Bucs.
Five days later, however, Bitterroot defeated North Medford 10-9 in the championship contest.
This season, Hanson's team qualified for regionals the same way as Wolfe's squad: both lost in the opening rounds of their respective state tournaments before rattling off five straight victories to claim crowns.
Along the way, North Medford had to beat Central Point twice. Mission Valley needed to top Glasgow two times.
The other teams in the regional tourney are host Burley, Idaho; a second squad from Idaho and Montana; Utah; Alaska and Wyoming.
They'll all be aiming for five more victories.
The double-elimination regional tourney is the farthest an A team can advance. It will wrap up with the championship contest at Burley High next Tuesday. Live and archived video of the games can be viewed at idahosports.com.
Taylor Raff has been a leader for the Mavericks, pacing the team in runs scored (71), batting (.424) and extra base hits (23 doubles, four triples and two home runs).
Austin Zavala is hitting .389 and has a team-best 11 sacrifice bunts, while Micah Brown (.397) owns 67 runs and Jared Evans (.380) has thrived both at the plate and on the mound, where he is 4-0.
David Crofton, who was named the state tourney's most valuable player, is 8-1 pitching and leads the squad in RBIs with 54.
Colton Westfall, who has pitched mostly for the AAA Mustangs this year, will likely get the start on Friday, Wolfe says. He is 2-0 with the Mavericks.
Christian Gillis, a left-hander with a 5-2 record, owns the lowest ERA (2.15).
Wolfe likes his mix of players, which he says will likely be the youngest group in Idaho.
"I feel really good," Wolfe says. "Our team learned to compete (at state), played some strong competition and is peaking at the right time. The thing you try to do in the summer is play as a team and be unselfish and we accomplished that. Everything from here on is a bonus for us."
The Mavericks lost to Roseburg Premier in their state opener in North Bend, but bounced back in the double-elimination tourney by beating Central Point twice, La Grande, Portland Eastside and the Grants Pass Diggers.
North Medford defeated Area 4 South champion Crater 4-3 in the title game.
The Mavericks split their regular-season series 2-2 against the Comets, winning the first two games before falling in the final two in Central Point.
But North Medford got the last laugh at the state tourney.
During the regular season, the Mavericks captured second place at the Best of the West Invitational in Eugene.
Mission Valley beat Glasgow 11-3 and 13-4 to secure the Montana/Alberta A title and claim its first championship since 2007. At the state tourney, the Mariners first lost to Glasgow 4-3 before turning on their winning streak.
Justin Evertz, who has won the last two Montana state MVP awards, is projected to start on the mound against the Mavericks. Evertz redshirted at Montana State University Billings last year and is 13-0 for the Mariners, a squad made up mostly of players from Polsom, Mont., and Ronan, Mont.
Montana is the only state that does not have high school baseball, and Mission Valley began playing its Legion season in April.
"For the most part, camaraderie is our strength," Hanson says. "Our defense is solid all the way around. We don't hit for a lot of power by any means. We rely on base running and taking advantage of other teams' mistakes."
The Mavericks are accepting donations to help fund their trip. To make a donation, contact Wolfe at 541-840-5315.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com