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Bechler whiffs 18 in victory

BOISE, Idaho ­ Steve Bechler looked like a compact Randy JohnsonSaturday night.

Bechler struck out 18 Alaska batters and tossed a two-hitter as the MedfordMustangs beat Anchorage 9-2 in a winner's bracket game at the AA AmericanLegion Northwest Regional.

This is the best I've felt in a long, long time, Bechlersaid. I was just really relaxed the whole game.

The win keeps Medford undefeated in the double-elimination tournament.The Mustangs advance to play Chatsworth Valley, Calif., at 6:05 PDT tonight.Chatsworth, a 15-8 winner over the Boise Gems Saturday, is the only otherteam without a tournament loss.

Mustang manager Sandee Kensinger said Bechler was riding a hot streakthat began in the Oregon state tournament.

In his last couple of starts, Kensinger said, he'sbeen pretty dominating.

The 18 strikeouts give Bechler 133 for the season, breaking Bryan Bealer'smark of 115 set last year.

Bechler relied primarily on two pitches, a hard fastball and a bitingcurve, to keep Alaska's hitters guessing all night.

I kept them off-balance, he said. I'd come out withmy fastball and counter with my curveball.

His 18 strikeouts were the most for any pitcher in the regional thusfar. Twice, Bechler struck out the side.

I go out there trying to strike every guy out, Bechler said.

That high number of strikeouts can have a downside, Kensinger said witha smile.

It's always nice, he said, but our kids like to playdefense.

Several professional scouts followed Bechler closely throughout the game,often with radar guns trained. That's something the young pitcher has hadto get used to, Kensinger said.

The Mustang offense gave Bechler an early cushion. Medford led 4-1 aftertwo innings.

With this team, Bechler said, if I get a three-runlead, I feel comfortable.

Medford widened the gap in the middle innings on homers by Kevin Follettand Brian Fachet. Fachet hit a solo shot in the fifth that may have beenthe longest homer of the tournament. He finished — for 4.

Follett knocked a two-run homer in the sixth. He went 2 for 4 on thenight withthree RBIs. Nate Philo chipped in with a double and a stolen base.

Medford spread out its runs, never scoring more than three in an inning.That concerned Kensinger.

I'm still waiting for these kids to explode, he said. Wehaven't had a big inning yet.

Big innings haven't been a problem for Chatsworth, tonight's Medfordopponent. The California team scored eight times over the first two inningsof its win Saturday.

The Mustangs will need a big offensive game to counter a team that hasscored 23 runs in its first two regional games, Kensinger said.

From what I've seen, he said, they're one of the topthree teams here.

Bechler is confident that his team will come through tonight.

If we do our job, he said, it's going to be tough tobeat us.

Both the Mustangs and Chatsworth will turn to their number three starterstonight. Neither team has used a relief pitcher in the tournament.