Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Hits were hard to come by as North Medford and South Medford opened Southern Oregon Hybrid baseball play on Tuesday.
We're talking really, really hard to come by.
With Black Tornado junior Colton Westfall in prime form and Panthers senior Caleb Newman countering with his own craftiness on the mound, the cross-town clash at North Medford High seemed to hinge on which team would could make the other blink first.
Although it took a while, that honor went to fourth-ranked North Medford on this day.
A pivotal one-out error led to the game's first run in the bottom of the fifth inning, and Austin Zavala followed with North Medford's lone hit — a two-run single — to give the Black Tornado all it would need in a 3-0 win over the Panthers.
"When you have two good pitchers on the mound," said South Medford head coach Ray Smith, "it really does come down to who makes the plays, and we didn't."
The three-game series resumes at noon Saturday at Harry & David Field and each team will be hard-pressed to recreate the type of pitching efforts put forth in the opener. Westfall and Newman were each effective in keeping their opponents off balance, albeit in different ways.
Westfall consistently spotted up a crisp fastball and then had the Panthers (8-4, 0-1 SOH) biting on his changeup, striking out 10 while allowing three hits to go with four walks (two intentional).
Newman went the other route, using his off-speed pitches to set up his fastball. He finished with seven strikeouts, four walks and only one earned run allowed against the heavy hitting Black Tornado (11-1, 1-0).
"You've got to give their kid (Newman) all the credit in the world to hold us to one hit," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe, "but we also had some bad approaches at the plate today. We were swinging at some balls out of the zone and putting the count in his favor and, to his credit, he took advantage of it. Luckily Colton was on and could get out of some jams for us."
Westfall sat the Panthers down in order through the first three innings, then got out of a jam with two runners on in the fourth and once again in the fifth when South Medford loaded the bases. In both two-out scenarios, Westfall induced first-pitch outs.
"Colton was on," said Smith. "We had trouble catching up to him at times, and he was able to locate and did a fantastic job of keeping us off balance at times, too. The balls that we did hit hard, and there were only a few of them, we hit right at them."
Westfall admitted to a hint of uneasiness as he waited for his teammates to break through against Newman and relished the moment when it finally happened in the bottom of the fifth.
"They told me they were going to go and get more hits and they pulled out one for me there in the fifth," said the junior right-hander. "That was big. I've just got to thank my team for that."
Troy Fowler led off the bottom of the fifth with a walk, then was sacrificed to second base on a bunt by Tate Cowden. After Brett Pearson walked to put runners on first and second, Christian Gillis slapped a grounder to shortstop Brandon Lupton. But Lupton's quick relay to second baseman Caleb Bell went behind the covering defender and into shallow right field.
Fowler came around to score on the error and left runners on the corners for North Medford. Gillis then stole second base, and Zavala followed with a two-run single through the left side for the first and only hit allowed by Newman.
"Really kind of one play was the difference," said Smith. "Not to say we turn that double play on Christian. He's pretty quick down the line, but that puts us in an opportunity to close that inning out. Once you make mistakes against a good team like North, they'll jump on you and it's tough to recover."
"For us to get over the hump against a team like that, we've got to make those plays," added the coach. "Unfortunately we didn't and we kind of opened the door for them and they got us on that one."
Jimmy Sporer and Bell each had infield singles for South Medford, and Lupton gave his team hope by reaching on an infield single to lead off the seventh inning despite a great backhanded effort by Cowden at second base. Westfall induced a first-pitch pop-up and then struck out the final two batters to improve his record to 5-1.
"I was feeling really good out there," said Westfall. "I fixed my mechanics over the week to get better and my arm felt amazing today."
Newman was certainly the hard-luck loser after doing everything Smith could ask from the right-hander.
"He's been working his tail off to get to this point and have an opportunity to go out and prove what he's all about," said Smith. "Today, with a pretty good crowd and a lot of excitement and energy ... it's just the kind of Caleb that I thought we would see. Unfortunately, we couldn't put any runs on the board for him and give him some offensive support, but to hold a team like North Medford to one hit, that says it all right there. I'm very proud of that young man and the effort he always gives us."
North Medford again was missing third baseman Josh Berman, who leads the team in batting average (.423) but is in his second week out of the lineup due to a strained shoulder muscle. Berman is day-to-day and hopes to return Saturday.
South Medford also played without one of its regulars in senior left fielder Eric Wallan, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes earlier Tuesday after suffering a recent double-digit weight loss. Wallan showed up midway through the game after going through medical tests and said he is already on insulin treatments and expects to return to action on Thursday.
South Medford 000 000 0 — 0 3 2
North Medford 000 030 x — 3 1 0
Newman and White; Westfall and Zavala. W — Westfall (5-1). L — Newman (2-2).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry