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Mayben's spirit lifts Tornado past Cougs

BEND ?It came down to a battle of wills: Mountain View's determined Cougars against North Medford's indomitable pitcher, Nate Mayben.

In the end, Mayben won out. And the Black Tornado is going to the state championship game.

Mountain View clawed back from an 8-1 deficit with two runs in the sixth inning and four more in the seventh. But that still left the Cougars a run short in an 8-7 loss Wednesday afternoon at Mountain View High in the semifinal round of the Class 4A state baseball playoffs.

Fourth-ranked North Medford (23-5-1), champion of the Southern Oregon Conference, advances to play league rival Crater in Saturday's state championship game at Volcano Stadium in Keizer. Crater dispatched Lakeridge of Lake Oswego 5-4 in Wednesday's other semifinal game.

Tenth-ranked Mountain View (23-7), the No. — team from the Intermountain Conference, saw its season end with the school's first appearance in the state baseball semifinals.

For a senior-laden Mountain View team, it's been quite a ride ?one the Cougars clung to until Wednesday's final out.

North Medford took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning on Shawn Backstrom's two-run single to center field. A two-run homer by Mayben and a double by Ken Halpin in the fifth inning chased Mountain View starter Ryan Soth, and the Black Tornado tacked on four more runs against reliever Jared Sanders, two on a slice double down the right-field line by Dan Bruce.

It proved to be a hole too deep for the Cougars to escape. But it didn't stop them from trying.

You've got to hand it to these kids, Mountain View coach Dave Williams said. You get down 8-1 and things look pretty bad. But they never gave up. Some guys came up huge for us in the last inning.

None came up bigger than Kit Norris, the Cougars? senior designated hitter. With one out, a run in and two runners on base, Norris ripped a 1-1 pitch from Mayben over the fence in left-center field for a three-run homer.

It was the third homer of the season and second in as many games for Norris, and it brought Mountain View within a run at 8-7.

I was just looking for a ball I could drive, Norris said. He got me on curveballs a couple times, but he finally hung one.

The round-tripper prompted a visit to the mound by North Medford coach Brett Wolfe, who said later that he had no intention of making a pitching change despite Mayben's predicament.

Nate's a four-year varsity letterman, and he's played in a lot of big games, Wolfe said. He has a lot of poise and confidence. We had a pitch count, but he still had a lot of pop on the ball so we stayed with him.

We felt it was his game to win or lose.

Mayben, who finished with six strikeouts and four walks, fanned Corey Merritt for the second out, but there was a lot of nail-biting left to do.

Drew Norris smoked a line drive down the left-field line for a double that put the tying run in scoring position, and things got even more sticky for the Tornado when Mike Crowley legged out a grounder to shortstop for an infield hit.

With runners on first and third, it looked good for the locals with senior Mike Curfew coming to the plate. Curfew already had two of the Cougars? 16 hits, and another in this spot would have tied the ballgame.

But it wasn't meant to be. Curfew's grounder to Bruce at shortstop turned into the final out, and the jubilant Tornado players piled on their weary winning pitcher while the Cougars began coming to grips with the hard fact that their spendid season was over.

This wasn't the way they wanted it to end, Williams said, so sure, they're upset now. But in a couple days they?ll have had a chance to reflect on where a lot of these guys have come in three years as varsity ballplayers.

The semifinal loss marked the end of the road for a dozen Mountain View seniors, including Sanders, who was 3-for-3 with a second-inning triple and three runs scored in his last game as a Cougar.

Every senior in the Mountain View starting lineup had at least one hit Wednesday. Drew Norris, like Sanders, had three hits. Crowley, A.J. Tyvand (two RBIs) and Kit Norris (four RBIs) had two hits apiece, along with Curfew.

Halpin, Bruce, Backstrom, Colby Gonzales and Evan McArthur had two hits apiece for North Medford.

— North Medford ............000 260 0 — 0 13 0 Mountain View ...........010 002 4 — 7 16 3

Mayben and Halpin; Soth, Sanders (5) and Tenney. W ?Mayben. L ?Soth. 2B ?NM: Halpin 2, Gonzales, Bruce; MV: D. Norris. 3B?NM: McArthur. HR?NM: Mayben; MV?K. Norris.