The third time was not the charm Friday for the Medford Mustangs at the American Legion AAA Northwest Regionals and, for that reason, the local boys lost their shot at a potential sixth regional title in program history.
In a tight back-and-forth battle with Yakima Pepsi Pak during an elimination contest at the regionals at Ogren Park in Missoula, Montana, Medford came up short for the third time this season to the Washington ballclub, 9-8 in 10 innings.
The loss wrapped up Medford’s season at 37-12-1. Yakima improved to 43-8 and will advance to the championship game with another win Saturday.
“We can’t complain about their effort,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “It was tough. We had to work really hard for everything we got today, it just was a battle. It was hard to get guys on base and hard to get guys in and we just came up a little bit short, and that’s OK sometimes. We had a good year.”
The Area 4 champion Mustangs became the first Oregon team to win four straight American Legion AAA state titles, and now boast 15 overall.
“At the end, once the last out is made and your season’s over, that’s what you reflect on,” said Mayben. “These guys were part of something special and pretty unique to be part of. I think we accomplished something a lot of people didn’t expect us to accomplish this year, winning the state tournament and Area 4, so I think that’s something they can hang their hat on.”
“Overall it was a big success when you look back on it,” he added. “We had a great group of kids that worked hard and did everything we asked them to do and never complained and I’m really happy about that.”
What didn’t make the Mustangs happy was leaving 13 runners on base Friday and creating a few too many extra opportunities for a Yakima team that had already beaten Medford 14-3 and 3-1 this summer.
“We had our chances, we just didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities that we needed to,” said Mayben.
Medford used a solo home run by Tate Cowden to spark a three-run first inning and tied the game at 6-all in the seventh inning when Cole Carder doubled and eventually was pushed home on a squeeze bunt by Kellar Edwards.
In the top of the eighth inning, Cowden walked and both runners were safe on a fielder’s choice by Nick Sanderson. An RBI double by Cowden gave the Mustangs a 7-6 lead and Kasey Buchanan’s sacrifice fly in foul territory in left field resulted in an 8-6 advantage.
All the Mustangs had to do was hold that edge for the final six outs, but Yakima didn’t let that happen. In the bottom of the eighth, an error allowed the leadoff runner to reach safely and Yakima tacked on two more singles before a one-out fielder’s choice closed the deficit to one run against Sanderson, who came on in relief in the sixth inning. An ensuing RBI single tied the game at 8-all.
James Turnbull led off the ninth inning with a double for the Mustangs and got to third before Cowden was intentionally walked in a move that paid off moments later when Sanderson grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Sanderson got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth before a walk opened the door for Yakima, but Turnbull negated it just as fast when he threw out the runner trying to steal second base.
Berry Hunt walked to open the ninth and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Carder, but a shallow flyout to center field by Johnson kept Hunt on second and Buchanan’s groundout to the shortstop ended the threat.
In the bottom of the 10th, a leadoff single by Spencer Bailey quickly resulted in him standing on third after a sacrifice and groundout to shortstop. With two outs, leadoff batter Bryce Helgeson hit a walk-off single to right-center for Yakima.
“We needed to finish the bottom of the eighth and ninth with that two-run lead and that was our chance,” said Mayben. “We should’ve gotten it done but didn’t and if you want to win these games at this point in the year, you’ve got to cash in on those opportunities when they present themselves.”
Three-time state champions Cowden and Carder led the way through the season and on the final day, with Cowden going 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs and Carder 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs. Turnbull was 3-for-3 with one run scored.
Melton, Johnson (4), Sanderson (6) and Little, Turnbull (5); Bailey, Larsen (2), Quincy (8) and Moen, Towsley (2). W — Quincy. L — Sanderson (4-4). 2B — M: Cowden, Sanderson, Carder 2, Turnbull; Y: Vandebrake. HR — M: Cowden (3); Y: Orejudos.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry