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Mustangs have look of champs

Sandee Kensinger has built a strong tradition of winning during the last decade as manager of the Medford Mustangs.

Kensinger, 41, a teacher and motivator supreme of young players, has his Mustangs galloping away to another fast start to the 1999 American Legion baseball season.

The Mustangs have won 14 straight games and have a 15-1 record in the young season.

The fast start is reminiscent of his 1991 team's 18-0 start. That team continued on to win one of five American Legion state championships that Kensinger has captured since 1991.

It's too early to tell what this means right now, says Kensinger. I know this team is talented and playing very well together.

But it can be even better. We're young, and we're doing our learning right now.

There's good chemistry here, says Kensinger. The kids like each other, and they know they have to keep playing hard or somebody will be coming up behind them to take their jobs.Mustangs' General Manager Don Schneider has assembled what appears to be an all-star staff to coach 18 talented players from North Medford High, South Medford and Crater.

Pete Whisler, head baseball coach at South Medford High and former coach of the Klamath Falls Falcons American Legion program, has become a Kensinger assistant.

Schneider has also added bright and energetic Phoenix High assistant baseball coach Brent Watts, a former Mustangs and Oregon State University player before he turned professional, to his coaching staff, to mix with Whisler and Kensinger.

Whisler won a state title in 1996 as head coach of the Falcons Legion team. That means Kensinger and Whisler have gobbled up six of the last eight state Legion titles as coaches.

Kensinger, who has coached the Mustangs to five state titles since 1991, says the presence of Whisler helps enhance the development of young Mustangs players and prepares them for post-season play.

He (Whisler) is a great coach, says Schneider. He and Sandee both drive the kids hard, but those same kids also like playing for them.

Kensinger says he's divided up coaching responsibilities.

Brent works with the pitchers some and Pete works with the middle infielders, says Kensinger. I totally trust those guys. They are great coaches, and I'm lucky to have them.

Kensinger and Whisler are both perfectionists when it comes to executing fundamentals. While they demand perfection of execution, they also have the ability to motivate their players to play with confidence and intensity.

Pete and I push them hard. We argue over who is the biggest (bleep) to them, said Kensinger, laughing.

There are certain things you have to do, says Kensinger. First thing is to play hard. There is no other way.

I make sure my players understand, and that they don't make the same mistakes over and over. But at the same time, you don't dwell on it. You make your point and you move on.

We keep them loose by making it fun, too says Kensinger. It has to be fun, or I wouldn't be out here.

The numbers the Mustangs are generating are revealing. This team is a hitting machine, it has quality pitching, with depth, and it plays solid defense.

What does that leave? How about a positive attitude.

They're great kids, says Kensinger. They're never late for a bus, or for practice, and they get along real well.

The Mustangs are batting .427 as a team. First baseman Colby Gonzales leads the way at .509 and shortstop Nate Mayben is hitting .500.

Seven of the eight regular starters are batting over .400.

Casey Campbell and Brent Watts, two of the premier players in Oregon high school baseball in 1999 for coach Chuck Dominiak's Crater Comets, have combined with North Medford's Jarred Pagnini to give the Mustangs a domineering starting pitching staff for league games and future playoff games.

All three pitchers are being used sparingly to allow their somewhat tired arms to recover from a long prep season and to prepare for the playoffs.

After all, it's the postseason when Kensinger's Mustangs have excelled over the years. That's their trademark.

We have the potential to go a long way, says Kensinger. The main thing is to stay healthy and be close as a team.

We're thinking about going as far as we can in the playoffs, says Gonzales, the smooth-swinging grandson of former Medford High baseball guru and head coach Jim McAbee. We think this team is good enough to get to the World Series.

The last time that happened, 1997, the Mustangs finished second in the nation. They were within four innings of winning the World Series with an 8-3 lead over Sanford, Fla. in the championship game.

But then, pitcher Steve Bechler ran out of innings he was eligible to pitch, and the Mustangs ended up losing.

Mayben, who is in his final year with the team, was a young member of that 1997 team. He batted over .400 in the postseason as the No. 9 hitter in a stacked lineup.

Mayben says the Mustangs can produce the kind of numbers 1997 team did, minus some power.

We hit the ball overall as well or better than that team, says Mayben. The difference is that 1997 team hit a lot of home runs. We won't hit that many home runs, but we could have a higher team batting average and maybe score more runs.

Randy Hammericksen is the Mail Tribune's sports columnist. He can be reached at 776-4499.