With temperatures hovering in the low 50s and spurts of rain throughout, the Medford Mustangs could’ve been excused for not bringing their finest effort to U.S. Cellular Community Park on Saturday night.
Instead, the Mustangs started hot and pushed through the unusual circumstances to score a 7-0 victory over the visiting Redding Tigers to open a doubleheader that was slated for Harry & David Field but had to be moved to the artificial surface due to unplayable field conditions brought on by rain showers throughout the day.
As it turned out, Game 2 of the twin bill was called due to weather in the second inning, although Medford (4-1) got all it needed in the opener as it continues to kick off another American Legion AAA campaign.
“It’s been really nice that in the last four games we’ve played we’ve gotten off to a good lead,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “We’ve had good first innings in those four games. It’s nice to get out there and get some runs on the board early.”
Returning second baseman Tate Cowden set the tone in the bottom of the first inning with his leadoff single in the hole at shortstop, and he didn’t stay at first base much longer. Shortstop Berry Hunt, making his team debut after a successful six-game venture with the Portland Pickles of the Great West League, immediately followed with an RBI triple to right field for instant offense. Hunt batted .409 with three runs and four RBIs with the Pickles.
“When you’ve got guys that can produce it really helps us out,” said Cowden, who finished 3-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs, “and all of us are producing now and that’s kind of why we’re doing good.”
Hunt seemed destined to be stranded on third base after Redding left-hander Cole Ryan settled down with a pair of strikeouts, but returning center fielder Cole Carder didn’t let that happen as he scorched a sinking liner to center field. Redding’s Blake Hibbard attempted to make a diving catch on the play but missed out and the ball simply kept rolling toward the fence for a two-run inside-the-park home run by Carder.
“Cole hit it really well,” said Mayben. “When you’re playing on turf like this that ball rolls forever and with his speed, he’s going to score.”
That 3-0 lead was more than enough for Mustangs pitchers Nick Sanderson and Coldin Shopp, who combined on a three-hitter against the Tigers (0-4). Sanderson allowed one hit with four strikeouts against three walks and one hit batter in three innings, and Shopp came on and closed the door with two hits allowed in his four innings with four strikeouts and no walks.
“Coldin came in and threw strikes and that was great,” said Mayben. “He’s made some adjustments really quickly in the three appearances that he’s had and is getting on top of the ball more and throwing a little bit more downhill and I really like what I’m seeing from him.”
Both Medford pitchers were the recipients of some stellar defensive plays, with catcher Charles Little making two athletic putouts on pop-ups — one up the first base line and one inches from the backstop — while third baseman Dylan Marsh made a backhand snare of a hot shot his way and pinpoint throw to end the fifth inning and started the sixth by nabbing a liner destined for extra bases.
“Little bailed us out of a couple innings with both of those catcher pop-ups because you never know what’s going to happen after that,” said Mayben. “And Marsh is really impressing us. He’s a kid that just keeps on working and working and I really like his lateral movement over there (at third base). He’s got good quick hands and he gets his glove where it needs to be, and he’s doing a heckuva job over there with some really nice plays.”
Cowden, who was 0-for-5 entering the game, put the contest out of doubt in the fifth inning with a towering shot over the left field fence for a two-run home run. Shopp had singled to lead off the inning, and Ryan came up lame on the pitch and had to be replaced by Marc Speake, who was instantly greeted by Cowden’s no-doubter from the moment he made contact.
“I was just telling myself to sit back and drive it, and I drove it,” said Cowden.
The breakthrough effort by Cowden, who like several teammates is commuting back-and-forth to college these days, was a welcomed sight by Mayben.
“It’s nice to see Tate get a few hits,” the manager said of his leadoff hitter. “He had a rough first two games of his season but he put the barrel on some good ones there. He hit the ball really hard three times.”
Hunt, who then walked for the second time, later scored on a fielder’s choice by Ryan Lorenz for a 7-0 advantage that was never really in doubt on this bone-chilling night.
“We just had to battle through it,” Cowden said of the conditions. “It is a little unusual but we just had to stick to it and keep playing the way we do.”
Little finished 2-for-3 with one run to join Cowden as the game’s only multiple hitters.
Weather permitting, Medford is next slated to host the Mid-Valley Southpaws at 1 p.m. today in a single nine-inning game at Harry & David Field.
Ryan, Speake (5) and Weiser; Sanderson, Shopp (4) and Little. W — Shopp (1-0). L — Ryan. 3B — M: Hunt. HR — M: Carder (1), Cowden (1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry