This year's American Legion AAA state tournament will have a decidedly familiar feel, with four of the five Area 4 baseball teams advancing to the five-day, eight-team tournament that begins Wednesday at Reinhart Volunteer Park in Grants Pass.

This year's American Legion AAA state tournament will have a decidedly familiar feel, with four of the five Area 4 baseball teams advancing to the five-day, eight-team tournament that begins Wednesday at Reinhart Volunteer Park in Grants Pass.

Three other teams will be making a repeat appearance at the state tournament, leaving few surprises when teams square off in search of a bid to the upcoming Northwest Regionals in Eugene.

"It kinda seems like the same core group of teams every year," said Medford Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. "What it does is it creates good competition because we do know each other so well. A lot of times that's hardest thing to do is get out of the state tournament because everyone's familiar with each other having played two, four or even six times."

"There's a sense of comfort with that," added Mayben, "but we know, at the same time, you're going to have to play your best because they all know how to beat you."

Wednesday's action begins with the Medford Mustangs (27-13) taking on the DeMarini Dirtbags of Salem at 9 a.m., followed by the Eugene Challengers (27-20) vs. Salem Withnell Dodgers (25-19) at 12:30 p.m. In the evening session, the Portland Eastside Barbers face Roseburg Dr. Stewart's (18-25) at 4 p.m. and the tournament-host Grants Pass Nuggets (25-14) play the Corvallis Gerding Builders (31-19) at 7 p.m.

Of those teams, making repeat appearances in the double elimination state tournament are Medford, Grants Pass, Portland Eastside, Corvallis and DeMarini. The Nuggets advanced to the tournament championship, only to suffer a second tournament loss to the Salem-area Canyon Crushers.

"I just think it's going to be a great state tournament because every team in it has a chance to win it because it's wide open," said Grants Pass manager Mike Reese. "Somebody's going to get hot and stay hot and that's what it takes in the tournament. I hope it's the Grants Pass Nuggets because I've got a good group again that may not be as strong as last year but is certainly capable of winning it."

The Area 4 champion Mustangs, who snapped GP's two-year stronghold on the crown, are as good of a team as any to consider for one getting hot at the right time. After a midseason skid, Medford has won eight straight and 11 of its last 13 entering the state tournament, although both losses were 7-6 affairs against the DeMarini Dirtbags on July 12.

"They swept us at home and we get to start off with them at the state tournament and hopefully, like last year's state tournament, that will leave a bitter taste in (our players') mouths and want to come out ready for maybe a little revenge," said Mayben.

"We're obviously going in wanting to win the whole thing and we think we have an opportunity to do that," he added. "We know there are a lot of great teams there and whoever wins this thing is going to come out playing their best baseball so you've got to do that to win. If not, you're going to be two and out."

The Mustangs, who will be vying for their 12th state title, suffered through an 0-for-2 showing as last year's tournament host, but Mayben said he thinks that experience should help better prepare his team this time around.

Key to the Mustangs' recent surge has been the return to shortstop of Micah Brown, who spent most of the season serving as designated hitter. Medford's fielding percentage has climbed to .943 since Brown took over at shortstop on July 14 — the team has committed an uncustomary 70 errors in 40 games — and his hitting numbers have gone up in the process. The North Medford High product is batting .336 with 17 runs and 20 RBIs.

The Mustangs are led offensively by Bryce Rogan (.392, 23 runs, 22 RBIs) and Austin Zavala (.358, 32 runs, 27 RBIs). July surges by Christian Gillis (.342, 34 runs, 16 RBIs), David Crofton (.347) and Taylor Raff (.294) have helped raise the team batting average to .312.

Eric Carlson (.321) and Cody Coggins (.310) have also put in consistent seasons for Medford, although Carlson has been kept out of the lineup for the past two weeks due to a back injury. His status will be day to day.

Pitching has been a strength for the Mustangs, with a team ERA of 2.40 that's built on the success of Colton Westfall (5-2, 1.93 ERA), Cody Hoff (4-2, 2.15 ERA) and Caleb Newman (5-2, 2.79 ERA). Isaiah Luzny leads the team in ERA in a reserve role (1.85) and has a 2-0 record and 32 strikeouts in 30 innings, while Steen Fredrickson is 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA.

Grants Pass has never won an American Legion AAA state title and is hosting the state tournament for the first time since 2004. The Nuggets are led by a host of Crater High graduates again this season, including lead pitchers Nolan Bastendorff and Ty Fox. Bastendorff is 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA entering the tourney, while Fox is 4-2 with a 2.59 ERA.

Since the Nuggets were assured of a state playoff berth as the host, it allowed Reese to further develop his pitching rotation and resulted in solid summers for Ben Glaeser (4-2, 3.59 ERA), Cody Ekwall (4-1, 3.20 ERA) and South Medford's Brandon Lupton (4-1, 3.32 ERA).

"We went after the league title and had a chance to win our third in a row but we hit kind of a skid where we weren't throwing strikes," said Reese, "but I think in the last 10 days or so we've gotten back on track."

The Nuggets are solid offensively with Taylor Tibbets of Crater and Easton Bents of Grants Pass leading the charge. Both are hitting in the .450 range, according to Reese, with Tibbets leading with 41 RBIs to go with 21 runs scored and Bents at 30 runs and 30 RBIs.

Tibbets leads the team with six home runs to go with four triples and 20 doubles for an impressive slugging percentage, while Bents has two homers, two triples and 10 doubles.

"This team hasn't hit with near the power we have in the past," said Reese, "but we've hit a lot more doubles and triples compared to years past and found the gaps pretty well."

Marco Garmendia (.396, 35 runs, 18 RBIs) has been another key for a GP team hitting .360 overall. Reese said the team's Achilles' heel has been hitting with runners on base but he expects the veteran squad to step up now that it's tournament time.

Medford won the Area 4 race, followed by Eugene, Grants Pass, Roseburg and Willamette Valley.

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