Medford turned the improbable into possible in the blink of an eye Tuesday night and, in turn, kept their West Coast League playoff hopes alive in smoky conditions at Harry & David Field.
With the Rogues trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Jake Whisler supplied the heroics on this night with a two-run double to tie the ballgame and then a scoring effort after a wild pitch to lift Medford to a 6-5 triumph over Kitsap.
RECAP: Jake Whisler goes 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs and Medford gets two hits apiece from Corey Wynant and Quentin Urban to rally past Kitsap for the WCL win.
UP NEXT: Kitsap at Medford, 6:35 tonight at Harry & David Field.
The win marked the 15th come-from-behind victory of the summer for the Rogues (28-24), who have now won 11 straight games at home. More importantly, the comeback allowed Medford to gain ground on Bend in the WCL South standings as the regular season winds down. The Elks dropped a 6-3 decision to division-leading Corvallis on Tuesday.
"It's a great feeling," Whisler said after gaining some post-game accolades. "Especially to give this Medford crowd that's been behind us the whole season a good game at home, it's just really great that we were able to get it done tonight."
The Rogues will look to build on that feeling at 6:35 tonight in the second game of the three-game series with the BlueJackets (17-32). Medford enters the contest three games behind Bend for the second playoff spot out of the WCL South. For the Rogues to qualify, they need to win all three games against Kitsap and have the Elks (30-20) lose each of their remaining four WCL games.
"It's not in our hands anymore and that part of it's not very fun," said Rogues head coach Josh Hogan. "We need a small miracle to happen but if we can just take care of our side and try and win the last two games here then hopefully something special happens with Bend."
Regardless, Medford has already secured the most wins for a first-year franchise in the WCL and, with Tuesday's win, assured the Rogues of a winning season in the WCL — a first for a debut team in the collegiate wood-bat baseball league.
None of that seemed likely early on as Kitsap opened a 4-0 lead and then clinged to a 5-3 advantage in the eighth.
Getting his team off to a good start for the second time in the game, Danny McNabb was hit by a pitch from reliever John Bodenhamer and then quickly moved to third on Corey Wynant's second double of the game. After getting a flyout by Colin Sowers, Bodenhamer wasn't as fortunate against Whisler as the Klamath Falls product practically came out of his shoes to send a soaring shot to the warning track in left-center.
"That was all 145 pounds soaking wet into that ball, for sure," said Whisler of his two-run double. "I put a good swing on it and thought (center fielder Daniel Jewett) was going to be camped under it but then I saw him keep running and I was like, 'Wow, I might've hit it over his head.'"
Kitsap tried to limit the damage after the game-tying effort by bringing in reliever Kyle McKay and he immediately got No. 9 hitter Ray McIntire to groundout to second baseman Yuto Kata. Whisler advanced on the play and that became vital moments later after Spencer Smith was hit by a pitch. On the next offering to Quentin Urban, the ball got in the dirt and skipped away from catcher Alex McKeon — allowing Whisler to race home for the go-ahead run.
"The guy on the mound kinda was rushing himself so I was thinking passed ball the whole time," said Whisler, who finished 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs. "I was reading ball in the dirt and I got one that was far enough back to where I could shoot it and I did, and it ended up being a good read on my part."
That 6-5 lead was as good as gold with Brandon Williams entering in the ninth inning. The reigning WCL player of the week struck out the side for his second save, allowing John Forsythe to improve to 4-1 after four solid innings in relief of starter Jamie Flynn.
In the end, though, Hogan was most excited for Whisler, who has played in only 15 games this season after being relegated to a reserve role once Medford's more ballyhooed players arrived in town.
"He's a great kid and has battled for us all year," said Hogan. "He hasn't probably gotten as much playing time as he'd like but today when his name was called he was ready to go, and that was awesome to see that."
Down 4-0, Medford began its comeback in the bottom of the fifth innocently enough with a pair of walks drawn by McNabb and Sowers. McNabb advanced to second on a wild pitch with Sowers at the plate, then stole third base to be in position to score on a single by Whisler.
McIntire followed with an RBI single, then Smith singled to left field to load the bases. After an RBI single by Urban, Kitsap starter Ryan Taylor got out of the jam with a 4-3 lead on a groundout by Jerad Casper.
While that fifth-inning surge didn't tie up the game, Whisler said it gave the Rogues a tremendous boost in confidence that a comeback could be there for the taking.
"For the way we've been playing lately," he said, "once we scored those three runs I really felt like we were going to take off, and we did. We should've come out and started better but we got it in the end, and that was the most important part."
Kitsap struck early against Flynn, with Jewett reaching third with one out when center fielder Smith couldn't haul in his liner despite a diving effort. After McKeon was hit by a pitch, Connor Jones plated Jewett on a fielder's choice that was an eyelash away from being an inning-ending double play.
The BlueJackets tallied two more unearned runs in the third, capped by a two-out, two-run single from Jones. Kata had earlier reached safely when it was ruled shortstop Wynant's throw pulled first baseman Casper off the bag, and McKeon was again hit by a pitch.
Kitsap's lead ballooned to 4-0 in the fifth when Kata opened the inning with a double, closing the night for Flynn, and scored on a one-out single by McKeon against reliever John Forsythe.
Flynn wound up with three strikeouts and five hits allowed with two of his four runs unearned in four innings, while Forsythe was solid again with three hits, two strikeouts and only one run allowed in his four innings.
With the season winding down, Medford lost the services of leading hitter Kevin Davidson and infielder Joe Chavez for the rest of the summer as they returned to their respective colleges. The Rogues were also expected to lose catcher Niko Pacheco after Tuesday's game for similar reasons.
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Kata 2b 4 2 1 0 Smith cf 3 0 1 0
Jewett cf 5 1 1 0 Urban rf 5 0 2 1
McKeon c 2 1 1 1 Casper 1b 4 0 0 0
Jones rf 3 1 1 3 Balta lf 4 0 0 0
Hndrksn dh 3 0 0 0 McNabb dh 2 2 0 0
Orr 1b 4 0 0 0 Wynant ss 4 1 2 0
Ghrghe lf 4 0 1 1 Sowers c 2 1 0 0
Lack 3b 4 0 1 0 Whisler 2b 4 2 2 3
Shehn ss 4 0 2 0 McIntre 3b 3 0 1 1
Totals 33 5 8 5 Totals 31 6 8 5
Kitsap 102 010 010 —5
Medford 000 030 03x —6
E—Wynant, Whisler. LOB—Kitsap 6, Medford 8. 2B—Kata, Lack, Wynant 2, Whisler. 3B—Jewett. SB — Jones, Gheorghe, McNabb.
IP H R ER BB SO
Taylor 6 5 3 3 2 2
Bodnhamer, L (0-1) 11/3 3 3 3 1 0
McKay 2/3 0 0 0 0 0
Flynn 4 5 4 2 0 3
Forsythe, W (4-1) 4 3 1 1 1 2
Williams, S (2) 1 0 0 0 0 3
WP—Taylor, McKay, Flynn. Umpires—Home, Craig Compton First, Greg Jaquette Third, Jerry Eklund. T—2:18. A—1,391.