Medford Mustangs manager Nate Mayben will have a trained eye on his American Legion AAA baseball team over the course of the next few days, beginning with tonight's marquee game of the Southern Oregon Classic at Harry & David Field.
Although the Mustangs have won five of their last six games and posted an 8-2 mark in a recent 10-game stretch, Mayben is confident there is plenty of room to improve as his team shapes up for Area 4 play and its role one month from now as host of the state tournament.
WHAT: A five-team American Legion baseball tournament.
"What we're hoping to get out of this tournament is just to solidify some things defensively, solidify how we're going to play and our pitching rotations," said Mayben, whose team opens at 7 tonight against the Salem Withnell Dodgers. "We haven't been doing very well defensively so it would be nice to come out and make some adjustments and solidify all that."
The likelihood is that each of the five teams in the Southern Oregon Classic plan to use that same approach for the annual midseason event, which has fallen under the umbrella of the Best of the West Challenge and the Jim Chubb Memorial Tournament in recent years.
Scheduled to compete today through Sunday in the tournament, beyond the Mustangs and Withnell Dodgers, are the Las Vegas Aces, Red Bluff Bulls and Fairfield Expos. The first three days will include games at noon, 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Harry & David Field, while Sunday's matchups involve games at 10 a.m. as well as a championship at 1:30 p.m.
Since Medford (10-6) and Fairfield have already squared off against each other five times this summer, they won't be playing each other in the event and will play one less game (four) than the rest. The Mustangs and Expos games will each last nine innings while the remaining teams will play seven-inning contests over the first three days when not paired with Medford or Fairfield.
"We'll still have a championship game but it's going to be kind of awkward how it's all set up given the circumstances," added Mayben, who had planned to include Klamath Falls in the field before it dropped its AAA team for the summer. "The competition should be pretty good because each one of these teams has a good history of being competitive. It's going to be true American Legion baseball and everybody's going to be on an equal playing field and that should make for some good games."
The Salem Withnell Dodgers earned the state championship two years ago over the Mustangs, while Fairfield won its state championship in California before falling short in the regionals. Red Bluff participated in last year's tournament.
A combination of tournament wins, runs allowed per game and runs scored per game will help determine seeding for Sunday's finales.
Medford takes a team ERA of 2.19 into the tournament through 15 games, with Carter Glick (2-0, 1.08 ERA), Micah Brown (four saves, 1.70 ERA) and Colton Westfall (1-2, 1.91 ERA) leading the charge.
"Our pitching's been phenomenal," said Mayben. "Besides that 2.19 ERA, probably what's even more impressive is our 91 strikeouts in a little over 100 innings pitched to 44 walks, and one guy on the team has 18 of those."
Offensively, David Crofton leads the regulars with a .356 batting average, with Taylor Raff (.348, 11 runs) and Austin Zavala (.333, 10 runs) helping spark the attack. Charlie Walker's 12 RBIs pace the team, two ahead of Nate Walker.
"Defensively is where we're not doing very good," said Mayben. "We have a .933 fielding percentage and 40 errors in 15 games, that's not good at all. We're going to turn up the intensity and focus and hopefully solidify some of that this weekend."