Roseburg manager Scott Shaver moved players like chess pieces with Medford Mustangs designated hitter Nick Sanderson in the batter’s box and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday night.
Right fielder Cody Gray was drawn in for a fifth infielder on the front line versus the left-handed hitting Sanderson, with his fellow outfielders sliding into the gaps in shallow territory with only one out in the first game of the Area 4 American Legion AAA doubleheader.
After surveying the territory, Sanderson came up with a plan so simple you’re almost embarrassed to say it out loud.
He went out and hit the ball hard.
On the second pitch from reliever Kyler Leischner, the Ashland High product scorched a ball past the first baseman to send the Mustangs off in deserving fashion with a 4-3 walk-off win over Roseburg at Harry & David Field.
“Honestly I’ve never seen that shift before,” said Sanderson, “but he threw two fastballs in a row and I was able to do something with it. On the second one, honestly he caught me out on my front foot but it worked out in my favor because I was able to pull the ball down the line more because of that.”
Standing on deck was shortstop Berry Hunt, who already had a clutch two-run single of his own with two outs in the first inning, but Hunt was more than happy to not be needed further.
“I was mentally prepared to get in there and get the winning shot, but I’m glad Nick did it,” said Hunt, who was 2-for-3. “He put a hard hit ball on that and I’m glad that we got the win. It was a good team effort right there.”
As if that weren’t enough excitement, Sanderson led off the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 2 with a double and saw his pinch runner, Justin Geyer, come home on a walk-off double by Joe Johnson for another 4-3 win in Medford’s sweep.
Medford (25-7-1, 11-3 Area 4), which entered the twin bill tied with Grants Pass for the Area 4 lead, had opened a 3-0 lead through two innings in the opener before watching it fritter away against Roseburg (11-18, 5-9).
“We definitely responded there at the end,” said Sanderson, who finished 2-for-4 with one RBI. “We kind of let that one slip away during the middle innings but in the end we got what we needed and got it done.”
After stranding baserunners in the third, fifth and sixth innings, Medford got its final rally going to break a 3-all tie in improbable fashion as No. 9 hitter Dylan Marsh battled back from an 0-2 deficit to Roseburg starter Will Shaw and drew a walk.
“That was a great at-bat by (Marsh),” said Sanderson. “He was definitely down in the count and fouled off some good pitches and worked his way back, and that’s what started the rally for us.”
After Tate Cowden sacrificed pinch-runner Geyer to second base, Ryan Lorenz drew a walk to close the night for Shaw. Jacob Melton greeted Leischner with a liner that just went over second baseman Cody Johnson to load the bases and set the stage for Sanderson, who finished the job.
“Our Nos. 3-4 guys (Melton and Sanderson) need to produce and that’s what they did,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “Both of those guys have been struggling a little bit at the plate as of late, but they’ve got to be there and they’ve got to get the job done for us and they did tonight so that was good to see.”
Medford had opened strong with starting pitcher Wyatt Baptiste dealing early and getting good support from Hunt and when two Roseburg errors led to a third run in the second inning. Things began to slide when Dr. Stewart’s managed three of its six hits in the third to cut their deficit to 3-2.
In the fifth inning, two straight walks by Baptiste and a third by reliever Coldin Shopp opened the door for a big inning by Roseburg, but the Mustangs were able to limit the damage to only a game-tying single by Treven Jacks. With one out, Cody Johnson sent a fly ball to Melton in right field and, after the catch, he hit first baseman Joe Johnson on the cutoff and the relay to James Turnbull at home plate was right on target for an inning-ending double play.
“We gave them some free bases and they took advantage of it,” said Mayben. “But we also minimized the damage and made some great plays. That play in right field by Melton and relay by Joe, that saved the game for us. That gave us the energy back and the momentum back in our favor so that was nice.”
Ethan Whitney allowed one hit with two strikeouts to earn his third win with 1⅓ strong innings of relief in the opener. Kasey Buchanan singled twice and walked to reach base in all three at-bats, and Melton was 2-for-4 with one run.
In Game 2, Melton allowed two runs — none earned — in 5⅔ innings with eight strikeouts, three walks and four hits allowed but didn’t get the decision after another stumble by the Mustangs, including a pair of errors that led to the tying run in the top of the seventh.
Joe Johnson finished 3-for-3 with three RBIs, including a two-run single in the fifth that made it 3-0 like in Game 1.
Shaw, Leischner (7) and Te. Jacks; Baptiste, Shopp (5), Whitney (6) and Turnbull. W — Whitney (3-1). L — Shaw (2-3). 2B — M: Melton.
Beerbohm, Dahl (5), Gray (7) and Leischner; Melton, Whitney (6) and Turnbull. W — Whitney (4-1). L — Gray (0-2). 2B — R: Leischner; M: Carder, Sanderson, Johnson.
— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry