The end result was better Thursday but Medford Mustangs manager Nate Mayben believes his team can still do more at the American Legion AAA Northwest Regionals.
The Mustangs did just enough to stave off elimination on Day 2 of the double-elimination tournament, edging Bozeman, Montana, 6-5 at Ogren Park in Missoula, Montana.
“I think they were happy with the win but they knew that they didn’t compete to the best of their ability today,” said Mayben. “We need to pick it up if we’re going to keep this thing going. Our energy right now seems to be down and we seem to be satisfied with winning four straight state championships. We kind of challenged them after that game that we’ve still got another step that we can cross and another goal that’s out there.”
Medford (37-11-1) will continue its title quest through the elimination bracket at noon PDT Friday when it takes on Yakima, Washington. Yakima (42-8) lost 21-14 to Missoula, Montana, on Thursday for its first loss of the tourney.
The Mustangs received a strong starting pitching performance from Berry Hunt against Bozeman, with Jacob Melton supplying four hits and two runs scored to go with 1⅓ innings of scoreless relief.
Hunt allowed seven hits and five runs — four earned — in 7⅔ innings with two strikeouts, two walks and three hit batters. Melton allowed one hit with one strikeout and no walks.
“We got a great effort by Berry on the hill and we really needed that,” said Mayben. “He did a solid job. His stuff wasn’t overpowering today but he did a good job of mixing it up. And the fact that he just threw strikes for us was important because that’s been our Achilles’ heel.”
Bozeman (51-17) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the third inning but Medford answered back with three runs of its own in the bottom half of the frame.
“That’s been a good characteristic of our team,” Mayben said of the immediate answer. “One thing we do really well is we just kind of stay in the moment and we don’t let things get too big for us. We do believe in ourselves so I think that helps us in those situations.”
Melton, who finished 4-for-5, opened the third with a triple and Tate Cowden walked to put runners on the corners. After a sacrifice fly by Nick Sanderson brought home Melton, Joe Johnson drew a two-out walk and Kasey Buchanan slipped an RBI double down the third-base line. A balk allowed the tying run to score.
In the fourth inning, the Mustangs broke the game open courtesy of a two-run double by Johnson. Melton got things rolling by reaching after his fly ball was dropped in right field, then moved to third on a single by Cowden. With two outs, Cole Carder caught Bozeman on its heels with a bunt single for an RBI and then Johnson sent a ball off the top of the right field wall for a 6-3 advantage.
“That was a huge hit by Joe to put us up 6-3 right there,” said Mayben.
Bozeman chipped away with single runs in the fifth and eighth innings but the Mustangs were able to close out the game and live to play another day.
Hostetler, Williams (4), Freund (8) and Murfitt; Hunt, Melton (8) and Little, Turnbull (4). W — Hunt (7-2). L — Hostetler. S — Melton (2). 2B — M: Buchanan, Johnson. 3B — M: Melton.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry