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Bechler pitches Mustangs to Legion crown

Western Regional in Boise next stop

THE DALLES ­ With the season on the line, Medford Mustangs managerSandee Kensinger handed the ball to Steve Bechler and told him to take careof business.

Bechler handled the assignment with poise and a blazing fastball, pitchingthe Mustangs to a 12-3 victory over Salem-Keizer Sand and Gravel in thechampionship game of American Legion State AA Baseball Tournament Sundayat Quinton Street Ballpark.

Medford, which pounded its first four tournament opponents into submission,needed a second chance against Salem-Keizer after the feisty team overcamea 5-0 deficit and pinned a 7-6 defeat on the Mustangs in an earlier gameSunday.

But Bechler saved the day for the Mustangs, firing a six-hitter with11 strikeouts as Medford emerged with a 12-3 second game victory and a tripto the American Legion Western Regional, Aug. 15-19, in Boise, Idaho.

Bechler was our ace in the hole and he came through for us in abig way, Kensinger said. He beat a good team and pretty muchdominated them.

Bechler, a senior-to-be at South Medford High School, tied a club recordSunday by registering his 115th strikeout of the season.

I just took it one pitch at a time and one out at a time,said Bechler, whose fastball was clocked at 89 mph earlier this summer andlooked to be in that neighborhood Sunday. I knew if I went out thereand did my best that my teammates would do the rest.

We're too good of a team to get beat twice in one day.

Bechler made one mistake, hanging a curveball that Salem-Keizer starMark Hills hammered over the right-field wall for a two-run homer in thesixth inning that cut Medford's lead to 4-3.

Hills, who was drafted in the 21st round by the San Francisco Giantsin this year's free agent draft, hit four homers in the tourney.

As soon as that pitch left my hand I knew he was going to hit theball hard, Bechler said. I hung a curveball and he jacked it.

But we still had the lead. There was no reason to panic.

Bechler surrendered a double to the next batter but held Salem-Keizerhitless over the final — and a third innings as he picked up his 10th victoryagainst three losses this season.

The Mustangs broke the game open by scoring seven runs in the final twoinnings. The onslaught featured a pair of two-run singles by Nate Philoand a solo homer by Shawn Walker, his 14th of the season.

I've failed to come through with guys on base a few times lately­ it was nice to get some RBIs and help us blow the game open,'' Philosaid.

Another major Mustang contributor Sunday was 16-year-old Nate Mayben,who went 6-for-9 in the doubleheader with three RBIs. Not to shabby forthe No. 9 batter in the order.

Mayben, the Mustangs' second baseman, was also forced to play shortstopthe final three innings after Alex Chavez was thrown out of the game foruttering an obscenity within earshot of second-base umpire Jon Pierce.

Mayben's only groundball at his new position was a meaningful one: hethrew out Brian Sullivan to end the game and start the traditional dog-pilecelebration in the infield.

Medford just had too many weapons for us, said Salem-Keizermanager Craig Nicholas, whose club finished the season with a 33-15 record.Who do you pitch around? All of their kids can hit the ball and hitit hard.

That's a heck of a crew, the best I've seen in a long time.

Even so, Salem-Keizer stunned the Mustangs in the opening game Sunday,rallying from a 5-0 deficit.

David Herrin's three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth drew Salem-Keizerwithin 5-4 and, after Medford took a 6-4 lead in the top of the sixth, Sullivanhit a two-run double in the bottom of the inning that tied the score.

Salem-Keizer won the game in the eighth on an RBI single by Cody Gardner.

But the Mustangs, who have lost just eight times n 56 games this summer,still had their ace in the hole.