It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
There wasn't much that separated North Medford and South Medford during Tuesday's opener in a three-game series in Southern Oregon Hybrid baseball, and the same scenario played out during Saturday's doubleheader at Harry & David Field.
On Tuesday, the fourth-ranked Black Tornado scored all its runs in one inning for a 3-0 win over the visiting Panthers.
While it didn't play out exactly that same way in the opening game of Saturday's twin bill, North Medford was able to clinch an 8-1 victory over the host Panthers by scoring five unearned runs in the seventh inning.
In Game 2, the Black Tornado used scored all of its runs in the third inning after a misplayed ball to right field opened the door for a 4-1 victory.
In all, 10 of the 12 runs scored by North Medford (13-1, 3-0 SOH) on Saturday were unearned, courtesy of a combined six errors by South Medford (9-6, 0-3). Nine of those 12 runs were scored in two innings.
"We were right there and we had opportunities," said South Medford head coach Ray Smith. "We had chances to make plays to keep them from scoring and missed opportunities of being able to drive in runs with scoring chances, it just got away from us."
"The kids competed well," added Smith. "It was tough to not be able to get at least one out of it today. I don't have any doubt the kids will bounce back, though."
North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe wasn't exactly thrilled with his team's approach at the plate in Tuesday's contest, when the Tornado was held to one hit, but his team rounded back into form with a combined 12 hits over the doubleheader, many with two strikes.
"Offensively we got better at-bats and we were finally getting some rhythm and timing and our swings were coming together," said Wolfe.
"I thought South competed well but I liked our tenacity at the plate," added the coach. "We work a lot on our mental toughness and mental approach and we were able to fight back and get a couple two-strike basehits to set the tone today."
With the offense flowing at opportune times, the Black Tornado got another pair of quality starts on the mound as senior David Crofton went the distance in the opener and junior Colton Westfall, who won on Tuesday, returned to score another triumph. Crofton allowed six hits and one earned run with four strikeouts and four walks, while Westfall allowed one earned run on four hits with three strikeouts and one walk.
Wolfe credited the poise of each pitcher and ability to get ahead of the hitters.
"Our pitchers were solid on the mound and changed speeds and located and got ahead of hitters, and defensively we were pretty solid," said Wolfe. "For the most part we limited them to three outs per inning and that's what you're looking for."
Austin Zavala, who was 2-for-4 in Game 1, got things going in the opener with a one-out single in the top of the first inning and was soon plated on an RBI triple by Micah Brown. After a walk, Brown scored on Jared Evans' fielder's choice grounder for a 2-0 lead.
South Medford countered in the third when Caleb Bell reached on an error and advanced to third on a single by Jimmy Sporer, who was 2-for-3, and sacrifice by Ryan Carle. North Medford opted to walk Nate Walker to load the bases and set up a force play, but Brady Breeze came through with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-1.
The Tornado got that run back in the fifth when Crofton singled home Christian Gillis, then the floodgates opened in a five-run seventh inning that included three hits and three errors. Consecutive RBI singles by Troy Fowler and Brett Pearson highlighted the surge.
Brandon Lupton took the loss for the Panthers, allowing all eight runs — two earned — and seven hits with four strikeouts and four walks in 62/3 innings.
The nightcap revolved around a third inning outburst by North Medford, which got a leadoff single by Pearson, who was 2-for-3 in Game 2. After a sacrifice bunt by Gillis, Zavala walked to put runners at first and second. Brown followed with a fly ball to right field that was lost in the sun by Breeze to keep all runners safe and load the bases for Crofton, who capitalized on the error with a sacrifice fly.
Evans walked to load the bases again and was followed by an RBI single from Josh Berman and two-run single by Isaiah Luzny before starting pitcher Justin James could minimize the damage.
South Medford was able to manage a single run in the sixth inning after Breeze drew a one-out walk, advanced to third on a single by Walker and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Austin White.
Carle tossed three innings of scoreless relief for the Panthers, allowing one hit with one strikeout, but South struggled to chip away against Westfall for the second time in five days.
North Medford 200 010 5 — 8 7 1
South Medford 001 000 0 — 1 6 5
Crofton and Zavala; Lupton, Carle (7) and White. W — Crofton (4-0). L — Lupton (3-1). 2B — SM: Breeze. 3B — NM: Brown.
North Medford 004 000 0 — 4 5 2
South Medford 000 001 0 — 1 4 1
Westfall and Zavala; James, Carle (5) and White. W — Westfall (6-1). L — James (2-1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry