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Talented Mustangs brace for state

File Photo

Medford meets Bend team in tourney debut

Behind a potent offense and sterling pitching, the Medford Mustangs haveput together a 43-7 record this season.

Their .367 batting average is on pace to be the highest for a seasonin team history ­ a history that includes four state titles in the lastsix years and seven titles overall.

They have hit 56 home runs in 50 games ­ a pace that rivals thatof the team-record 70 homers in 60 games in 1983.

One of the top pitchers, 6-foot-9 left-hander Hans Smith, is 10-0 witha 2.50 ERA and another, right-hander Steve Bechler, is 8-3 with a stellar1.75 ERA. Bechler's 93 strikeouts this season leave him two behind SeattleMariners pitcher Bob Wolcott's best season as a Mustang and 21 behind theall-time best mark of 114 by Andy Smith in 1982.

Given those facts, the Mustangs might look like a shoo-in to captureyet another state crown as the American Legion AA state tournament beginsto-day in The Dalles.

But don't tell that to manager Sandee Kensinger.

You look at our record and every-one is going to say we are thebig bullies of the state, but we aren't because everyone is vulnerable,Kensinger says.

You need a lot of breaks. You need talent, which we have, but youneed some breaks.

The Mustangs may have already gotten their first break: They open playat 9:30 a.m. today having won all their tournament games this season thatstarted before noon. Their opening foe is the Central Oregon Storm of Bend.

I was glad to see we were in the breakfast league, Kensingersays. We've never lost in the morning. I guess the kids don't likegetting up early or something. When you have to get up in the morning andplay right away, it's different.

Although their impressive record certainly precedes them, another advantagethe Mustangs have going into the tournament is the element of surprise.Of the seven other teams in the tournament, Medford has played only one­ Cooke's Stationery of Salem ­ this season and won that game 8-5.

I'd rather have a team that doesn't know us, Kensinger says.

Central Oregon (35-17) is expected to start left-hander Leam Woodardtoday, while Medford will counter with Smith. The Storm's offense is ledby Oregon State's Scott Skeen, who is hitting .461 with a team-high 12 homeruns.

Leadoff hitter Nate Philo, with his team-best .448 batting average, isone of several key components to the Mustangs offense. Another is No. 2hitter Alex Chavez, who is the all-time leader in hits (223) and doubles(43) while ranking second in runs (174).

Third baseman Brian Fachet is Medford's leading power component witha team-high 17 home runs, although first baseman Shawn Walker (12) and designatedhitter Kevin Follett (nine) are also deep threats.

In addition to Central Oregon and Medford, the other six teams in thebracketed double-elimination event are Putnam, Salem-Keizer, Cooke's Stationery,Tigard, Madison of Portland and The Dalles.

A win today would pit the Mustangs, at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, againstthe winner of the Cooke's Stationery-Madison game. A loss today sends Medfordagainst the loser of today's Putnam and Salem-Keizer game.

The title game is scheduled for Sun-day at — p.m. If the winner's bracketteam should lose, a second game would begin at 4:30 p.m.

Beyond the numbers, the familiarity of the opponents and the time ofday the games are played, the Mustangs have redemption on their minds afterlosing to rival Klamath Falls in last year's state title game.

This is a group that has been there before and come really close,Ken-singer says. All the games we play are to get ready for state.There are some kids with a sour taste in their mouths, and I have one, too.

Steve Bechler is 8-3 with a 1.75 ERA.