It wasn't always pretty, and definitely unconventional at times, but somehow the Medford Rogues found a way to be in a winning position Tuesday night in the West Coast League South Division playoff opener against Corvallis.
The Knights held leads of 5-1 in the sixth and 8-3 in the ninth but Medford's late-game magic once again shined bright on the home baseball team — just not bright enough in front of a crowd of 1,255 at Harry & David Field.
RECAP: Medford's Matt Taylor drives in two runs and the Rogues turn a triple play but Corvallis holds on late to claim the WCL South Division playoff opener.
UP NEXT: Medford at Corvallis, 6:40 tonight at Goss Stadium.
The Rogues mounted a crowd-stirring rally with three runs in the bottom of the ninth to trim their deficit to 8-6, and had runners on first and second base with two outs and Corey Wynant at the plate.
As someone who routinely came in clutch while at Crater High, try as he might, Wynant couldn't extend the comeback as reliever Colin Feldtman got him swinging on a nice pitch on the outside corner to preserve Corvallis' 8-6 advantage.
"It was a great rally by our whole team," Wynant said of Medford's late-game efforts. "We've always had that Rogue mentality where we go out and always put up a fight. I was just trying to get a base hit there and pass the baton to the next guy, which is kind of what we go by. It just didn't come up for me."
The Rogues (30-25) will have a quick turnaround for another chance at Corvallis, which improved its WCL-best record to 38-17. Game 2 of the best-of-three series is 6:40 tonight at Goss Stadium on the Oregon State campus. If necessary, Game 3 will be Thursday in Corvallis.
Wenatchee beat Walla Walla, 8-4, to open the WCL North Division playoffs on Tuesday.
"We thrive on this kind of stuff," added Wynant. "We get to go up to Corvallis now and play in a really great environment at Goss Stadium. It's going to be a great game and we're definitely going to put up a fight. We're the Medford Rogues, we don't back down."
Medford head coach Josh Hogan said his team's path to the playoffs as the first expansion team to ever accomplish that feat hopefully will pay dividends in tonight's must-win contest. The Rogues won their first matchup with Corvallis this summer but have now lost six straight to the Knights.
"We had our backs against the wall the whole year and we climbed into second place (behind Corvallis)," said Hogan. "We needed some help then with Bend (losing its final six games) but the nice thing about this is we control our own destiny. This is a special group of guys, most of these guys have been here since Day 1, so they really want it and they really want a dogpile at the end."
Danny McNabb went 3-for-4 with one walk and Matt Taylor was 2-for-5 with two RBIs to put Medford in position for victory on Tuesday, with ninth-inning doubles by Ray McIntire, Jerad Casper and Parker Miles helping provide a dramatic finish.
"Right now we're really scrapping," said Taylor, who had RBI singles in the first and seventh innings. "We're just digging up with what we have and who we've got. A lot of our guys took off early (to return home for college), we have I think 10 position players and five pitchers right now, so we're trying to win it with our hearts and not our players right now. We're just putting everything we've got into it."
Besides the ninth-inning rally, the highlight of the night for Medford likely came in the top of the eighth inning when relief pitcher Chase Tokunaga got out of a jam with two runners on and no outs by starting the first triple play in Rogues history.
After Dane Lund walked and Cody Lenahan reached on a fielding error by Tokunaga, No. 5 hitter Kevin Kline popped his sacrifice bunt attempt back to Tokunaga, who caught the ball but then lost it in his transition to throw to first. The miscue likely caught the Corvallis runners off guard and led to easy outs at first and third base after Tokunaga fired to Casper at first and then he relayed the ball to McIntire at third.
After Taylor plated Spencer Smith with a two-out infield single in the first, Corvallis took the lead for good in the third behind a pair of home runs against Medford starter Christian Coronado. With the wind blowing out to right field, as usual at H&D, Knights leadoff hitter Blake Drake singled to center field to open the third and promptly came into score when Peter Van Gansen turned on a pitch for a line drive that just cleared the corner wall. After a flyout by Lund, cleanup hitter Lenahan sent a towering drive to the right-center gap for a 3-1 advantage.
In a theme of the night, Medford stranded runners in scoring position in the third and fourth innings — the Rogues finished 5-for-14 with runners in scoring position — and Corvallis took full advantage with a pair of insurance runs with two outs in the top of the seventh. With the bases loaded, Dillon Keene's wild pitch plated Kline to make it 4-1 and then Drake added an infield RBI single before Medford turned to the left-handed Tokunaga to get out of the jam trailing 5-1.
The Rogues answered with a pair of runs in their half of the seventh when McIntire drew a bases-loaded walk to plate Wynant and Taylor added another RBI single that didn't get out of the infield grass.
Corvallis appeared to have scored the back-breaker with three runs in the top of the ninth, highlighted by a two-run double from Van Gansen, but Medford would not go gently.
After Jake Whisler drew a leadoff walk, McIntire supplied a one-out double to spark hopes of a comeback. Casper, who had three strikeouts with one out and runners in scoring position, was able to redeem his night with a two-run double to the left-center gap and then, one out later, Miles supplied his own RBI double.
The Knights then brought in Feldtman to squash the threat but he initially walked McNabb before getting the game-ending strikeout.
"It was a weird game," said Hogan. "It came down to too many free bases, just like we shot ourselves in the foot in the first part of the season. And then we couldn't drive runners in when we had runners in scoring position with less than two outs."
"This was pretty much a reflection of the first third of the season," he added. "Hopefully the next two games are a reflection of the last two-thirds of the season."
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Drake cf 5 1 2 2 Smith cf 4 1 1 0
Vn Gnsen 2b 6 1 3 4 McIntire 3b 2 1 1 1
Lund c-lf 4 0 0 0 Casper 1b 5 1 1 2
Lenahan 3b 5 1 2 1 Taylor lf 5 0 2 2
Kline 1b 4 1 1 0 Miles dh 4 0 1 0
Keyes dh 4 1 4 0 McNabb rf 4 0 3 0
Craig pr 0 1 0 0 Wynant ss 4 1 0 0
Rabago c-ss 2 0 0 0 Cornish c 4 0 0 0
Duffin lf 3 0 0 0 Whisler 2b 2 2 1 0
Lucarelli ss 0 1 0 0
Melker rf 4 1 0 0
Totals 37 8 12 7 Totals 34 6 10 5
Corvallis 003 000 203 —8
Medford 100 000 203 —6
E—Duffin, McIntire, Wynant, Tokunaga. DP—Corvallis 1. LOB—Corvallis 13, Medford 10. 2B—Van Gansen, Keyes, McIntire, Casper Miles, McNabb. HR—Lucarelli, Smith, Miles, Whisler. SB—Van Gansen 2. CS—Miles.
IP H R ER BB SO
Perez W,1-0 61/3 4 3 2 1 5
Nesbit 1/3 1 0 0 1 1
Barker 2 5 3 3 1 1
Feldtman S,1 1/3 0 0 0 1 1
Coronado L,0-1 6 7 3 3 4 1
Keene 2/3 3 2 2 2 1
Tokunaga 21/3 2 3 0 1 0
Xxxx x x x x x x
WP—Keene 2. Umpires—Home, Jon Jackson First, Colin Price Third, Scott Rice. T—3:08. A—1,255.