KLAMATH FALLS — It takes special qualities to achieve something never before done.
After Medford won a record fourth straight American Legion AAA baseball state title with a come-from-behind, 11-9 victory in 10 innings Sunday over Dallas, those in that Mustangs inner circle mentioned a few.
Talent, perseverance, commitment, belief.
Those were among the themes that surfaced after the Mustangs broke a tie with several programs that had won three straight and bagged their 15th overall Oregon crown.
Medford (36-10-1) is headed to the Northwest Regional, which begins Wednesday in Missoula, Montana. It will seek its sixth regional title.
Nick Sanderson is in his second season with the Mustangs.
“That’s probably the first thing I learned,” he said, pondering the aforementioned attributes as he and teammates took turns embracing the championship trophy, posing for photos and generally basking in a victor’s glow on the Kiger Stadium turf. “Not only does this team usually have talent, but we also have a lot of heart and drive and we never quit, no matter what the score is.
“I think the outcome of that game was proof of all that.”
Medford scored six runs in the second inning and led 8-5 through its half of the sixth.
Dallas — which had to beat Medford twice Sunday to win the title — used its own hitting prowess to take advantage of 13 walks and a hit batter by Mustang pitchers Nick Sanderson and Joe Johnson.
It scored three in the sixth to tie it and went ahead, 9-8, with a run in the seventh.
The Mustangs’ Johnson singled to lead off the top of the ninth and scored the tying run on Jacob Melton’s groundout to first.
Johnson blanked the Dirtbags (30-9) in their half, then Medford started the 10th with consecutive hits by Sanderson, Berry Hunt and Cole Carder to ignite the winning, two-run rally.
When Ryan Lorenz made what his manager, Nate Mayben, called “the play of the year” in the bottom of the 10th — the right fielder gunned down a runner at third for the first out — it short-circuited a Dallas uprising.
Moments later, Ethan Whitney, the Mustangs’ pitcher, struck out Blake Buchheit for the final out.
A dogpile of jubilant Medford players formed near the mound.
Regarding the record-setting title, Mayben reflected on what such success takes.
“I think that’s just a sign of a program that’s always striving for excellence in everything that we do,” he said.
He spoke of the commitment demanded of the players when their friends are camping or vacationing or doing other summer-fun things.
“That commitment is rewarded right there,” he said, nodding at the collection of young men sporting dirty, grimy uniforms and giant grins.
Carder was chosen the tournament MVP, coming up time and again with monumental plays.
Against Dallas, he was 2-for-5 with a solo home run — his third of the tourney — and saved three runs with a diving catch in center field in the third, preserving a 6-3 lead.
He was part of the hit parade to start the 10th, rapping a single.
“We always just know, no matter how late in the game it gets, we can score one or two,” said Carder. “If you look at most of our games, we’re scoring one or two runs every inning, so we don’t panic. When we get down, (batters) one through nine can get on base, we can get them over and get them in.”
That was crucial in the top of the 10th.
Sanderson, who earlier homered, led off with his second double off the center-field wall. Hunt’s sharp single to left followed, and Carder chimed in with a single off the glove of diving shortstop Hunter Johnson to score Sanderson with the go-ahead run.
Hunt and Carder moved up to third and second after an intentional walk to Lorenz, and Hunt scored to make it 11-9 on Brody Wittman’s wild pitch that sailed over catcher Treve Earhart.
In the bottom, the Mustangs took the field three outs from the title.
Johnson, who threw 105 pitches, walked leadoff hitter Luis Amador and was replaced with Whitney.
Jackson Holstad next ripped a grounder to Hunt at third base. He fielded it cleanly but threw wildly into right field.
Lorenz, it turned out, was waiting just in case.
“I thought it was going to be a double play,” said Lorenz, who was inserted midway through the game for defensive purposes. “But once I saw that ball coming over — I’m usually backing up — I was ready for it. I knew I had him as long as it was a pretty good throw.”
Almador was the first out.
A grounder to shortstop Keller Edwards produced a putout when he touched second, but his throw to first pulled Sanderson off the bag.
Whitney then closed it with a strikeout.
Medford survived the surplus of free passes.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” said Mayben. “It’s kind of been our nemesis all year, ball four. It seems like we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot quite a few times. We’ve got to clean it up. We just can’t do that at the next level.”
He tells his pitchers homers are all right, but not walks.
Sanderson put the long-ball theory to the test. He allowed four that scored five runs.
“Honestly, for the most part, I felt like I was locating pitches pretty well and had good control of my off-speed and stuff,” he said. “But every time I left one up, they took advantage and sent it out of the yard.”
When he hit his bomb, a two-out solo shot in the sixth, it was if to say, take that.
“Just a little bit,” he grinned.
“The great thing about Sanderson,” said Mayben, “was he was able to come back and perform at the plate. He didn’t let those home runs and walks bring him down at the plate, and that’s huge. That’s just a sign of a guy that’s mature and understands the situation.”
Sanderson was 3-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs, and Hunt was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run. Lorenz was 2-for-2, and, a day after going 6-for-6, Melton was hitless but drove in two runs.
Wittman was the player of the game for Dallas, going 3-for-5 with two home runs.
As he thought about the journey, Mayben said “it’s really cool” that all the players of the past four years can feel a part of the streak.
“Maybe next year we can make it five,” he said.
Sanderson, Johnson (4), Whitney (10) and Little, Turnbull (5); Kessler, Whitman (6) and Tr. Earhart. W — Johnson (2-0). L — Wittman. Sv — Whitney. 2B — M: Sanderson 2. HR — M: Sanderson, Carder; D: Ta. Earhart, Zellner, Wittman 2.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org