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Surging North routs South

Bruhns, Eubank lead the way as Black Tornado romps back into playoff contention

Displeased with the way they were swinging the bats, Darren Bruhns and Abe Eubank have made the North Medford batting cage their second home in recent weeks.

The Black Tornado catcher and first baseman have been spending about 30 minutes before practice and 60 minutes afterwards taking hundreds of extra cuts.

We've been cage rats, Eubank said.

The industrious rodents turned into Panther killers Tuesday at North Medford.

Bruhns banged a tape-measure home run, rapped three singles and scored three times, and Eubank drilled three doubles, registered two RBIs and scored twice as the Tornado stunned archrival South Medford 11-1.

Fifteen days after getting swept by the seventh-ranked Panthers and looking as though it might miss the state playoffs, the suddenly resurgent Tornado has won four straight. It now stands 10-6 in the Southern Oregon Conference and 11-9 overall, while South Medford slipped to 13-3 in league play and 18-3 overall.

More than anything, this game was about pride, said Bruhns, who elevated his season batting average from .306 to .348 with Tuesday's 4-for-4 showing. We felt like we owed them one. Ever since they swept us a couple of weeks ago, we've come out hungry in practice.

And in games. Eubank and the other North Medford seniors had the team gather in the Tornado clubhouse prior to the game. With the lights turned off and the doors locked, the players stayed silent and visualized getting hits and making plays in the field.

An hour or so later, they played their best game of the season.

Defensively, the Tornado turned three double plays. Offensively, it amassed 14 hits.

Tony Salamone, Dustin Shipley and Zack Earle each stole a base, and A.J. Nichols had a sacrifice bunt.

Then there was the workmanlike pitching of off-speed artist Trevor McCleery, who limited the hard-hitting Panthers to five hits and one run. McCleery didn't record a strikeout, but he also didn't issue any walks as he ran his season record to 5-1.

When you talk about the whole package ' offense, defense and pitching ' this was our best game, nodded North Medford coach Brett Wolfe. We haven't been a consistent baseball team, but we're getting our act together at a good time. It's like I tell the kids, it doesn't matter so much how you start the season, it's how you end it.

Counting the two home runs he hit in his final two at-bats against Klamath Union Saturday, Bruhns has hit safely in six straight trips to the plate.

Cage workouts aside, Bruhns credits North Medford assistant coach Paul White for helping him with his swing.

He changed my stance so that I'm staying on my back foot more, Bruhns said. I was getting out front too much and not making very good contact. Now the ball looks like a beach ball, and I'm driving it hard.

Ditto for Eubank, who also made some swing changes after reviewing video of himself at the plate.

It's my senior year, and I was trying too hard, said Eubank, who also has been burdened by a virus. I was trying to overpower everything. I was lifting my front side and dropping the barrel of the bat. Now I'm keeping my front elbow in and waiting for the pitch.

North Medford wasted no time in teeing off on South Medford starting pitcher Josh Camp. Bruhns led off the bottom of the first inning with a single up the middle. One batter later, Eubank doubled him home. Eubank then scored on a single to right by Zack James, giving the Tornado a quick 2-0 lead.

Ben Koziol's RBI single in the top of the second cut North Medford's lead to 2-1, but back-to-back doubles by Eubank and James along with RBI groundouts by Salamone and Aaron Marlia in the third provided the Tornado with a 5-1 cushion.

Bruhns led off the fourth with his laser-shot homer to left, and Earl and Logan Odom added singles for a 7-1 Tornado advantage.

North Medford closed out the game in the fifth via the 10-run mercy rule when it added four more runs on four more hits. James, who went 3-for-4 with a double while batting in the clean-up spot, put South Medford out of its misery with an RBI single off Panthers' reliever Zach Robinson.

They wanted this game more than we did ' that was obvious, said South Medford coach Steve Antich, whose team hits the road Saturday for a doubleheader against top-ranked Roseburg. We've been able to battle back and win a lot of games after falling behind, but not today.

South Medford..............................010 00 ' — 5 3

North Medford..........................203 24 ' 11 14 2

McCleery and Bruhns; Camp, Boyd (3), Robinson (5) and Koziol. W ' McCleery (5-1). L ' Camp (4-1). 2B ' NM: Eubank 3. HR ' NM: Bruhns.

Surging North routs South"dhunt@mailtribune.com.

North Medford?s Abe Eubank gets his foot down on the bag before South Medford?s Trent Smith can reach first Tuesday. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli