The air quality seemed to hit its peak for the day at Harry & David Field during the final game on Day 1 of the American Legion AAA state tournament, but that was about all the good news for Medford on Wednesday night.

The air quality seemed to hit its peak for the day at Harry & David Field during the final game on Day 1 of the American Legion AAA state tournament, but that was about all the good news for Medford on Wednesday night.

With wildfire battles in southern Oregon raising air quality levels to hazardous levels by mid-afternoon, there was some concern on the safety for players and onlookers as the eight-team event kicked off early Wednesday.

The haze appeared to dissipate just in time for the Mustangs' opener against the Columbia Gorge Hustlers, but that didn't stop left-hander Connor Mathisen from throwing a cloud over the local team's hopes thereafter.

In an efficient effort that saw Mathisen throw an average of 10 pitches per inning, the senior from The Dalles Wahtonka High kept the Mustangs off balance throughout to earn a 3-0 decision in the opening round.

The shutout was the first pinned to Medford (28-18) this season, and dropped the Mustangs into an elimination contest at 12:15 p.m. today against the Portland Barbers.

"It's always one game at a time," said Mustangs head coach Nate Mayben said. "Are guys disappointed we lost, absolutely. I think it's going to drive them a little bit more and make them turn it up a little bit more. Before you get to Sunday you've got to win three games anyways so we've still got more chances. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

For good measure, Mathisen also drove in all three runs for Columbia Gorge (16-7), which will play the DeMarini Dirtbags of Salem at 7 tonight.

"He had us chasing pitches and hitting pitches that he wanted us to hit," said Mayben. "The kid did a heckuva job. We're not a great hitting ballclub but we can hit the baseball at times and he did a good job, my hat's off to him. And he drove in all three runs for them, that's quite a night."

Mathisen needed only 91 pitches to secure the complete-game victory. He scattered five hits — only two exiting the infield — and struck out three with one walk. Only Medford first baseman David Crofton, who opened the fifth inning with a double, advanced as far as third base for the Mustangs.

"I just felt good all night," said Mathisen. "I felt around the zone and I had the confidence of my defense behind me and I knew I didn't have to strike everyone out to win the game. My defense backed me up like crazy. I only had three strikeouts so they made all the plays tonight, they just were amazing."

Bryce Rogan's third inning single to left field marked Medford's first hit after Mathisen dispatched the first seven batters in a row. After Crofton's double in the fifth, the only other hits for the Mustangs came when Charlie Walker beat out an infield single to the shortstop in the sixth and on bunt singles by Micah Brown and Jared Evans.

"We didn't do a very good job with our pitch selection," said Mayben. "He did a good job of mixing up pitching selection and didn't throw anything over the plate, but our guys chased so he didn't have to."

That essentially was the game plan for Mathisen, who admitted to only reaching the mid-70s on any radar gun but found success by not having to rely on a fastball. In fact, he rarely went to anything other than his offspeed pitches on Wednesday.

"Tonight I had every single one of my pitches working for me," he said. "I had my curveball dropping out of the zone in two-strike situations, I had my slider in key situations where I could throw it in fastball counts and my changeup kept them off balance all night. I got a lot of pop-ups in crucial situations."

Medford counterpart Carter Glick was pretty effective in his own right against the Hustlers, striking out six with 10 hits allowed, but wasn't given much leeway when he made a mistake. Columbia Gorge got singles from Austin Wilson and Justin Sugg — the latter on an 0-2 pitch — in the third before Mathisen came up with a two-out, two-run line drive to shallow left field.

Singles by Jacob Quintanilla and Steve Bartells in the fifth inning led to a squeeze play bunt by Mathisen that built the Hustlers' lead to 3-0 on the fielder's choice sacrifice.

"Carter pitched excellent," said Mayben. "I think seven of the 10 hits they got were groundballs through the infield, they just had great timely hitting. Carter did a great job, I don't think I could ask much more from him."

Medford's first true chance at scoring accompanied Crofton's leadoff double in the fifth but two flyouts and a groundout followed his effort. In the sixth, Walker's two-out single and Brown's surprising bunt gave rise to some hope but third baseman Lucas Denney thwarted the rally by stabbing a hard shot by Austin Zavala for the inning-ender.

In the eighth, Evans put down a perfect bunt to open the frame but runner's were quickly erased on two straight fielder's choice grounders before Walker popped out to second base to close the frame.

"We never got that spark that we needed as far as that big knock with a runner on base or something," said Mayben. "We didn't leave a lot of guys on base ... we didn't get a lot of guys on base, that was the problem. We did hit some hard groundballs right at some guys and some line drives right at some guys. Sometimes you just don't find the holes."

For the Hustlers, who are in the state tournament for the first time since 2008, coming out on top Wednesday against a quality opponent provided quite a thrill.

"This is so exciting," said Mathisen. "We came down here and we're the underdogs because we only have 11 guys. We had people saying who the heck are these guys and what are they doing down here, and we showed everyone ... we beat probably one of the best teams in the tournament. It was a great job by them, too, because they kept me working all night and it definitely wasn't easy. I hope we don't have to see them again."

In Wednesday's other games, the Grants Pass Nuggets rallied for a 7-6 win over the Corvallis Gerding Builders; the Canyon Crushers of Salem romped to a 16-1 victory in a game shortened to seven innings by the 10-run mercy rule; and the DeMarini Dirtbags of Salem scored a 5-1 triumph over the Portland Barbers.

Tournament play in the double-elimination event continues through Sunday at Harry & David Field.

Columbia Gorge 002 010 000 — 3 10 0

Medford Mustangs 000 000 000 — 0 5 0

Mathisen and Copper; Glick and Zavala. W — Mathisen. L — Glick (5-2). 2B — CG: Denney; M: Crofton.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488,, or