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Splitsville for 'Stangs

Medford Mustangs starting pitcher Chad Hegdahl turns in a strong performance as the defending state champions gain a measure of revenge with a 4-1 victory in the opener. — — — Challengers gain dramatic split after crafty Mustangs pitcher Hegdahl turns in a first-game gem

Two outs away from a two-game lead in the Area 4 standings, the Medford Mustangs finally gave Ryan Royster what he'd been waiting for all night Tuesday at Miles Field.

When it came, the Eugene Challengers' cleanup hitter cleaned up.

Royster belted a high slider from reliever Travis Glass over the left-field wall for a three-run home run to propel the Challengers (28-9) to an American Legion AAA baseball doubleheader split and back into a first-place tie with the Mustangs (34-6).

Eugene's 6-4 victory followed Medford's 4-1 win in Game — behind left-handed starter Chad Hegdahl's six-hitter.

I hadn't gotten anything all night, said Royster, a senior-to-be at Churchill High whose homer was his 12th of the summer. They'd been keeping me off-speed, off-speed. I was expecting something after awhile, for them to make a mistake or something like that.

Finally, they gave me a two-strike fastball, and I made the most of it. I'd been waiting all day for it.

The pitch was, in fact, a 2-2 slider, but Royster's jack with one out in the top of the seventh inning counts just the same.

And it sums up to quite a lot when it's considered that the Mustangs and Challengers are now tied atop Area 4 at 7-3 in league play halfway through the conference slate. Eugene, by virtue of a home sweep on June 24, has a 3-1 tiebreaker in the season series.

They're a good ballclub, they're well-coached and they have a lot of talent, said Medford manager Sandee Kensinger, whose squad was 1-3 against the Challengers in Area 4 action last summer, as well, before beating them twice in winning the state tournament.

We feel we have the same. Hey, we lost to 'em three out of four. It's still all gonna come down to who's playing the best at the end. Fortunately for us, it was us last year.

This year, the state tournament is in Eugene, Aug. 5-10 at North Eugene High's Swede Johnson Stadium, where the Mustangs are 0-4 during the last two summers.

In Game — Tuesday, Hegdahl defeated Challengers ace Cody Newell for the first time in three head-to-head starts since May 26.

A left-hander headed to the Oregon State program, Newell, pitching for North Eugene, beat Hegdahl and Ashland High 7-0 in the Class 4A state playoffs at the end of May.

He again got the best of Hegdahl ' and this time, Medford ' with an 8-1 opening victory during the Challengers aforementioned sweep June 24.

The 6-foot-2, 160-pound Hegdahl was determined to return the favor Tuesday.

I didn't wanna go down to him three times, said Hegdahl, a senior-to-be at Ashland.

Spotting an inside fastball and his usual assortment of off-speed pitches, Hegdahl (4-1) allowed a run in the first before shutting out Eugene the rest of the way. He walked two and stuck out none.

I kept them off-balance between the combination of my fastball and my changeup, said Hegdahl. I got lots of grounders. ... I use my defense.

His confidence was bolstered by an early lead, as the Mustangs erupted for all four of their runs in the bottom of the first.

Ryan Heil singled and scored, Evan McArthur ripped an RBI double and scored, Mike Allen blasted a run-scoring double and touched home on a wild pitch, Dustin Butler walked and scored and Corey O'Neill beat out an RBI infield single during the frame.

Newell (2-4) permitted just four more hits after the five-knock first, striking out five and walking two in going the distance.

Allen finished 3-for-3 with two doubles, while A.J. Norris went 2-for-2 with the Challengers' lone run.

The nightcap was a seesaw affair.

Eugene roughed up Medford starter Brett Timmerman to build a 3-0 lead through 3&

189; innings, but the Mustangs rallied with two runs in bottom of the fourth and two more in the fifth off wily lefty Sean Mascolo.

Doubles by Allen and Butler and a single from Jimmy Ulrey accounted for Medford's two-run fourth. O'Neill singled and scored on McArthur's sacrifice fly before Heil sprinted in on a two-out error in the fifth.

Beau Hovland pitched three good innings in relief of Timmerman but fell to 6-1 after walking Norris and serving up a one-out single to Kellen Hobie in the seventh.

Royster followed with his three-run rip off Glass.

Patrick Cooley worked around a leadoff walk to Rob Folsom ' who was 2-for-3 in Game 2 ' to nail down his third save in the bottom of the seventh. Mascolo (5-1) gave up three earned and seven hits in six innings for the win.

We knew going on the road in Area 4, the worst you can come out with is a split, said Challengers coach Kevin Shaffer, who teamed with Corey Nicholson in filling in for manager Marty Lees, who stayed at the hotel with the flu.

The Mustangs travel to Roseburg Dr. Stewart's for a 6 p.m. Area 4 doubleheader Friday.

FIRST GAME

Eugene Challengers ............... 100 000 0 ' — 6 1

Medford Mustangs ................ 400 000 x ' 4 9 1

Newell and R. Smith; Hegdahl and Folsom. W ' Hegdahl (4-1). L ' Newell (2-4). 2B ' E: R. Smith, Brushett; M: Allen 2, McArthur.

SECOND GAME

Eugene Challengers ............. 002 100 — ' 6 11 1

Medford Mustangs ................ 000 220 0 ' 4 7 0

Mascolo, Cooley (7) and R. Smith, Walker (6); Timmerman, Hovland (4), Glass (7) and Folsom. W ' Mascolo (5-1). L ' Hovland (6-1). 2B ' E: Mannion 2, Norris, Kent, R. Smith; M: Allen, Butler. HR ' E: Royster (12).

Medford Mustangs starting pitcher Chad Hegdahl turns in a strong performance as the defending state champions gain a measure of revenge with a 4-1 victory in the opener. - Mail Tribune images