14 players, one goal
Confident Mustangs head to Regionals with high hopes
The last time the Medford Mustangs won the American Legion AAA baseball state championship, they were far from finished.
In 1997, the Mustangs took their Oregon crown all the way to nationals, where they finished second to Sanford, Fla.
This time around, Medford, coming off last week's 4-1, championship-earning performance in the state tournament at Miles Field, has grand plans again.
If we keep playing like this, shortstop Evan McArthur said after Sunday's 7-3 championship win over the Eugene Challengers, I don't wanna jinx us or anything, but I think we can go quite a ways.
Starting this morning, the Mustangs continue their postseason march at the eight-team Northwest Regional in Lewiston, Idaho.
Medford opens with the Anchorage (Alaska) Dimond Lynx at 10 a.m. today. To finish pool play, the Mustangs meet the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Eagles at — p.m. Friday, then the host Lewis-Clark Twins at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Should Medford place first or second in its four-team pool, it will advance to the Sunday semifinals.
The championship will be determined at 7 p.m. Monday.
The other four teams in the tournament ' which make up the other pool ' are Yolo Post 77 of Woodland, Calif., the Helena (Mont.) Senators, Food Giant of Bellevue (Wash.) and the Treasure Valley Stars of Ontario.
Because of their proximity to Boise and the rest of Idaho, the Eastern Oregon-based Stars play in an Idaho league and emerged as the state's champion.
The Mustangs (43-11 overall) figure to have as good a shot as any team, with Bellevue (44-9) and Yolo (35-5) probably the favorites because they survived baseball-rich Washington and Northern California, respectively.
Anchorage is 19-12, Cheyenne is 49-14 and Lewis-Clark is 46-14. In the other pool, Helena is 40-26 and Treasure Valley is 36-9.
Medford played brilliantly in four of its five state-tournament games, outscoring the competition 40-11 minus Saturday's 8-1 loss to Lakeridge, before which the Mustangs already knew they had secured a spot in Sunday's championship.
The last two years, it seemed like we had all the talent in the world, but we never put it together, said McArthur, who joins Matt Skundrick and Rob Folsom as the team's veteran, third-year members.
This team has all the talent and the chemistry, and we all make key plays. ... We get the job done when it's time to get it done in the important situations.
Medford's lineup features a top five that could put a college team to shame, with Folsom, Ryan Heil, McArthur, Skundrick and Brett Timmerman, who bat in that order, all owners of batting averages that sparkle well above .400.
Jimmy Ulrey, Dustin Butler, Eric Kessler and Matt Smith lend the bottom of the order plenty of production, and Tyler Engle and Nathan Emerson wield capable bats off the bench.
The overall team batting average is .386, and the Mustangs are scoring 8.8 runs per game.
Skundrick is the pitching ace, as he picked up two wins in the state tournament ' including the clincher ' to build his record to 10-2. The powerful right-hander has completed 11 of his 12 starts this summer and has 95 strikeouts in 801/3 innings.
Brady Rhodes (9-1), a crafty left-handed starter, and Brett Goble (5-5 with nine saves), a sidearm-delivering righty who has become the club's relief specialist, are Medford's other most common men on the mound.
Lefty Brent Kircher (7-1), lefty Timmerman (5-1) and righty McArthur, who has only pitched two innings this summer because of a sore arm but said he's now ready to go, are the Mustangs' other options.
The team's ERA is 3.70 based on nine innings, which is the standard, barring the 10-run rule, postseason game length.
Defensively, Medford has been outstanding of late, not committing a single error in their state-tournament games and saving many a run with spectacular glove work, particularly around the infield.
Folsom at catcher, Butler at first base, Heil at second, McArthur at shortstop and Smith or Skundrick at third have molded into a stifling unit.
In the outfield, Kessler or Smith man left, Timmerman plays center and Ulrey roams in right.
Combine all those skills with the Mustangs' team unity, and a state title is the product.
It's mainly chemistry, Folsom said of Medford's success. There's not one person on this team that doesn't get along with another person. And every time we come to the park, we know we're gonna have a fun, fun time.
Champions of Oregon, the Mustangs aim to conquer the Northwest beginning today ' and prolong their fun a little longer.