It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
This baseball season has been positive for North Medford junior David Crofton, but Tuesday wasn't exactly kind to him heading into the bottom of the seventh inning with the game tied at 2-all against visiting Roseburg.
Sitting 0-for-3 after making the final out in the first, third and fifth innings, the 6-foot-3 designated hitter needed a little help if he was going to break the slump against Roseburg right-hander Cody Watkins.
North Medford senior Taylor Raff opened the door with a liner for a one-out triple, and then Roseburg head coach Troy Thompson weighed the situation before intentionally walking the Black Tornado's Nos. 2 and 3 hitters, Austin Zavala and Micah Brown, to get to Crofton.
With all the confidence of someone who entered the game batting .529 in Southern Oregon Hybrid play and .346 overall, Crofton showed significant improvement in his fourth at-bat and laced a 1-0 pitch just above the leaping reach of third baseman Cody Bassett for a walk-off single and 3-2 North Medford victory.
"Leaving the two bases open, I kinda figured they were going to walk (Zavala and Brown) and try and get a double-play ball," said Crofton, "but the odds played in our favor today, so it was nice."
"I was sitting dead-red fastball because he couldn't walk me and didn't want to go 2-0," he added. "I got it and just put a good swing on a good pitch."
The line drive set off a big celebration from the North Medford dugout, which was chomping at the bit to avoid a third straight SOH defeat. The second-ranked Black Tornado (14-4, 5-2 SOH) was swept in a doubleheader on its home field Saturday by Crater.
"The important thing in this game is you have to battle and you have to compete because it's not going to be handed to you," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe. "I think that was a good turnaround from Saturday because those were two tough ones. You have to have those intangibles and be able to fight back when you're 0-for-3 in that situation. You have to be mentally right and David was, so that was good for us to be able to battle back and get that one."
North Medford appeared in control for the better part of the contest thanks to a dominant pitching performance by sophomore Colton Westfall. The right-hander had plenty of zip on his fastball and nice control of his changeup and curveball to keep No. 7 Roseburg (11-4, 1-3) off-balance throughout. He finished with a season-high 12 strikeouts — all swinging — and allowed only three hits with three walks.
"He did a very good job of throwing first-pitch strikes," said Roseburg head coach Troy Thompson. "He was ahead all day and continued to pound the strike zone and come after our hitters. When you do that and are aggressive on the mound, good things usually happen."
For all the glory of belting out the game-winner, Crofton wasn't about to take credit for a win that so clearly had so many other fingerprints on it.
"I just made the adjustments that coach Wolfe talked about; that wasn't the one moment that won the game for us," said Crofton. "What did it was our pitcher on the mound. He really did a great job, and then offensively we all came through in needed spots."
Christian Gillis plated Hayden Evans with a groundout in the second inning to put North up 1-0, then doubled that advantage in the fourth when he followed a two-out single by Josh Berman with a deep triple to left-center field.
That 2-0 lead appeared like it may be enough considering Westfall struck out five straight batters at one point but, after two strikeouts to open the sixth inning, the Tornado faltered a bit. Kody Matthews reached when his sharp grounder was bobbled by Raff at shortstop, then Westfall made a mistake on a 2-0 pitch to Zach Wyscaver and the burly Indian sent it over the left-field wall.
"We made a mistake with the wind blowing out pitching in and we didn't follow our chart like it was supposed to be," said Wolfe. "We missed a pitch there and the guy made us pay."
Westfall wound up striking out the side to close the sixth, then buckled down after a walk put the go-ahead run on in the seventh. After Roseburg sacrificed Layne Westwang to second with two outs, Wolfe intentionally walked leadoff hitter David Irvine and that paid off when Westfall struck out Bassett for the fourth time.
Raff then supplied his second hit of the day to give his team a chance, deftly sliding under the tag on an all-out assault on third base.
"He's been like that all season for us," said Crofton. "We can always count on him."
Thompson then counted on Watkins finding a way to get out of a jam with out possibilities in every spot, but it wasn't to be on Tuesday.
"We've got to play for a double play or ground ball there and they did a good job of getting a pitch and putting it into play hard," said Thompson.
Wolfe knew the strategy would be imposed after Raff's triple, and rightfully so.
"David was 0-for-3 and didn't look good at all," said the coach. "I'd been talking to him all game about making adjustments in his next-time at-bat, which we work really hard on, and fortunately he was able to get on top of that one and pulled one out for a good win for us."
Roseburg 000 002 0 — 2 3 2
North Medford 010 100 1 — 3 7 2
Watkins and Irvine; Westfall and Zavala. W — Westfall (7-1). L — Watkins (1-3). 3B — NM: Gillis, Raff. HR — R: Wyscaver.
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