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Southern Exposure

Matt Skundrick will get the call when the Medford Mustangs open state play on Wednesday against Lakeridge at Miles Field. / Roy Musitelli — — — Mustangs in for first time since '99

Mystery is minimal for the Medford Mustangs this week.

Not only do the Mustangs get to stay home as hosts of the Boise Cascade American Legion AAA baseball state tournament beginning Wednesday at Miles Field, they also are entertaining a field that features three familiar foes.

Half of the eight-team tournament is Area 4 clubs, with the Eugene Challengers, Roseburg Dr. Stewart's and the Klamath Falls Falcons joining Medford.

David Douglas Gateway, the Lakeridge Lions, Franklin Bashors and Pendleton Hodgen Distributing round out the field.

The commitment to summer baseball and legion baseball in the Southern Oregon area is just a notch above a lot of places, says Eugene manager Marty Lees, an assistant coach at Oregon State University, of the tournament's decidedly southern flavor. They take a lot of pride in it.

The Mustangs (39-10 overall) received an automatic berth as the tournament host, marking their first appearance at state since 1999, but they have all the tools in place to claim the squad's first Oregon state championship since 1997.

The lineup's first five hitters ' Rob Folsom (.428), Ryan Heil (.474), Evan McArthur (.458), Matt Skundrick (.401) and Brett Timmerman (.444) ' boast batting averages of better than .400, and the team averages 8.9 runs per game.

The fielding has been mostly smooth, with 63 errors in 49 games, and is particularly strong up the middle, where catcher Folsom, second baseman Heil, shortstop McArthur and center fielder Timmerman roam.

And the pitching, led by ace Skundrick and workhorses Brady Rhodes and Brett Goble, has been superb, as the staff's ERA sparkles at 2.85.

The all-around excellence has third-year manager Brent Watts excited.

The biggest thing we've got going for us is we've seen about half the teams in the tournament, says Watts, whose club went 18-6 to finish second in Area 4 action.

I think (the champion) is gonna be whoever gets hot, really. Any one of the eight has a shot to win it.

Watts picks Eugene, the Area 4 champion at 21-3, and Klamath Falls, which won state in 2000 and lost twice on the final day to finish second last summer, as his co-favorites.

But I think we can play with those two teams, says Watts, alluding to Medford's 1-3 mark against the Challengers and 5-1 tally with the rival Falcons.

The Mustangs are also 4-0 against Roseburg this summer but have not faced any of the other four tourney teams.

Skundrick, a third-year Mustang, believes an all-for-one focus gives his team a solid shot this week.

We've been loaded with talent the last two summers I've been on the team, but this year, everybody comes out and shows up to play every day, says Skundrick, who will start Medford's Wednesday night opener against Lakeridge.

That's what I like. We have one of those 'can't-lose' attitudes. We show up at the park wanting and expecting to win.

The tournament is set up in a double-elimination format, with all eight teams slated for one game Wednesday and one game Thursday.

From there, the field will narrow to six squads and three games Friday, then four teams and two games Saturday.

A champion will be determined Sunday, with at least one game, and possibly two, concluding the tournament.

Tickets are &

36;3 for individual games or &

36;20 for a weeklong, tournament pass.

Heil, the Mustangs' leading hitter and one of three Oregon recipients of a National American Legion Baseball Scholarship ' he'll receive his award at the tournament banquet tonight ' says Medford is ready to make its mark.

We've been playing good baseball the last couple weeks heading into this, says Heil, who also paces his squad in runs scored, on-base percentage and stolen bases in his first summer of baseball since he was 13 years old.

I think our team feels that we can compete with anybody.

The only mystery is can the Mustangs, aided by their Miles Field home advantage, beat them all?

Stay tuned, for all will be revealed in the coming days.

Reach reporter Tim Pyle at 776-4483 or e-mail