KLAMATH FALLS — The Medford Mustangs didn’t have to win their game Saturday in the American Legion AAA baseball state tournament.
But it sure beat the alternative.
“Before this game, I told everybody we need to play it like it’s an elimination game,” said second baseman Tate Cowden after Medford routed the Portland Barbers, 19-5 in seven innings, to remain undefeated and advance to the championship game at Kiger Stadium. “This game’s really important because if we do lose one tomorrow, we can bounce back in the second one.”
The three-time defending state champion Mustangs (35-10-1) collected 16 hits and scored 14 runs in the first three innings — eight in the second — to erase most doubt about the outcome.
The game ended on the 10-run mercy rule.
Jacob Melton proved unstoppable for Medford, going 6-for-6, scoring four runs and driving in three.
“It was really impressive,” marveled Cowden, who himself was 3-for-5 with three runs and three RBIs. “That kid’s incredible.”
Because it has yet to lose in the double-elimination format, Medford’s opponent Sunday, the Dallas Dirtbags, must defeat the Mustangs twice to unseat them. The title game is at noon. A second game, if necessary, would follow.
Should Medford win, it would become the first team in state history to win the championship four consecutive seasons.
Portland teams won six straight, from 1943-48, but the titles weren’t by the same program.
Several teams have won three straight, including the Mustangs from 1991-93 and 2014-16.
The Mustangs are chasing their 15th state title.
Medford manager Nate Mayben wasn’t about to allow a ho-hum approach Saturday.
“We’ve been in this game a lot the last four years,” he said, “and it’s always a better feeling at night knowing you’ve got to be beat twice. It’s a message you send to the other team. You don’t have to win one from one team and take one from us. You’ve got to beat us twice, and I’d much prefer that than the other way around.”
Dallas (30-8) defeated the Eugene Challengers, 9-5, on Saturday to advance.
Medford 10-runned Dallas, 19-7, on Friday. In that game, the Mustangs trailed 7-0 through 1½ innings, then scored 11 runs in the fifth.
By winning the Area 4, Medford avoided having to play in the regional round. But it also gave the Mustangs a week off from game competition.
That kind of break can interrupt rhythm at the plate, said Mayben.
“We’ve been working hard the last week making adjustments, and starting yesterday, I feel like it just started clicking,” he said.
Certainly for Melton, the powerful left-handed leadoff hitter.
In the first inning, his single was the first of three successive hits and led to two runs.
He followed with a double and a single in the second inning, then hit two more singles before finishing with a double to the base of the left-center field wall in the seventh.
Melton had never had six hits in a game, but he didn’t change his approach as the stats started mounting.
“I just kept trying to hit the ball hard,” he said, “not try to do too much. Just hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
Ahead 2-0 after one inning, the Mustangs exploded.
James Turnbull started the second by being hit by a pitch. Melton doubled, and Cowden followed with a two-run single.
Before the onslaught abated, the Mustangs had nine hits and a walk in 10 straight at-bats. Nick Sanderson added a double to the string, and Joe Johnson a two-run single.
With a 10-run lead to start the third, Berry Hunt led off with a home run to left field. The next batter, Cole Carder, did the same thing to the same place.
Melton likes where the Mustangs are heading into the matchup with Dallas.
“Coming off two games like this where we’re hitting the ball really well, I think it will carry over to tomorrow,” he said. “But we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to keep hitting the ball and doing what we’re doing.”
Medford ended up with 22 hits.
Hunt was 2-for-6 with three RBIs and two runs, Carder 2-for-5 with three runs and an RBI, Ryan Lorenz 2-for-2, both doubles, with two RBIs; James Turnbull 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI and Sanderson 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI.
The Mustangs’ early, extensive offense allowed Mayben to use his pitchers liberally, thereby keeping their pitch counts down and leaving nearly all of them available for Sunday.
Either Ethan Whitney or Sanderson is likely to start against Dallas, and Johnson got a respite from the mound in the Portland rout.
“So, we’re sitting pretty,” said Mayben, adding the ones who won’t be available to pitch are Hunt and Melton.
Mayben admitted the pitch-count rules in effect for the first time this summer are frustrating.
“We’re going to do what’s best for our pitchers,” said Mayben, “and with this pitch count, you’ve got to do things like this. You throw guys you normally wouldn’t and drag out a game like this that shouldn’t be dragged out.”
The Oregon champion advances to the Northwest Regional beginning Wednesday in Missoula, Montana.
Sanderson, Baptiste (2), Shopp (3), Marsh (5), Lorenz (6), Turnbull (7) and Little; Schimmel, Mead (2), Gleason (2), Nutting (4) and Osario. W — Shopp. L — Schimmel. 2B — Melton 2, Sanderson, Lorenz 2; P: Bafaro 2, Gleason. HR — M: Hunt, Carder.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org