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Pleading the fifth

One big inning.

All season long that one big inning has spelled doom for the South Medford Panthers and provided a springboard to success for cross-town rival North Medford.

Given that as a backdrop, it's not surprising that one big inning played a pivotal role in Thursday's Southwest Conference baseball affair at Harry and David Field.

The top-ranked Black Tornado erased a 3-1 deficit in the fifth with a nine-run outburst to pull away for an 11-4 victory.

The comeback marked North's second straight win following Tuesday's upset loss to Grants Pass in the opener of a SWC twin bill and was a fitting example of the Tornado's ability to remain calm under pressure.

"We've been coming from behind all year," said North Medford coach Brett Wolfe. "We've been giving up one or two runs and finding ourselves a couple back, but we're not panicking."

The Black Tornado (14-1, 3-1 SWC) sent 14 batters to the plate in the fifth inning, with eight of North's nine batters eventually crossing the plate.

"It all just came down to we kinda opened the door and let 'em in," said South Medford coach Tom Britton.

Senior catcher Darren Bruhns had two of his three singles in the fifth, scoring twice to go with two RBIs in the frame. Tornado teammate Jordan Bostwick singled and had a two-run double in the fifth, with Logan Odom, Kody Stevens, Zack Earle and Shea Bedortha also driving in runs to break the game open.

"That's the game of baseball," said Bruhns. "When you get momentum a game can change real, real fast."

The game-changing inning was really nothing new to the Panthers (3-9, 1-3), who have competed well all season but continue to be undone by such outbursts.

"Maybe it's our inexperience, I don't know," said Britton. "It just describes this team, though. We sparkle at times, and at times we'll have those little letdowns. The good clubs stay consistent."

Up until the fifth inning, the Panthers seemingly had control of the game. South starter Branson Holm limited North to one hit — a double by Odom — through three innings. On offense, the Panthers got leadoff singles by Trent Smith and John Adamson and an RBI single by Griff Boyd to open the game against Bedortha.

North finally got something going against Holm in the fourth, with Bostwick earning a leadoff walk and eventually making his way around to score when Earle was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

That 1-all tie was short-lived, however, as South answered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the fourth on a single by Adamson that scored Patrick Thibeault and Chris Granger. Thibeault had started the outburst with a two-out single, and Bedortha proceeded to walk Granger and Smith to set the table for Adamson.

But as happy as the Panthers may have been about staying a step ahead of the Black Tornado, all that went out the window in the fifth.

With one out, Bruhns started the surge by beating out an infield single off the mound and Bostwick followed with a single to put runners on the corners. Bruhns then scored on a wild pitch that also advanced Bostwick to second base.

The Panthers looked in good position for their second out of the inning when Andrew Jones hit a sharp grounder to Smith at shortstop but, instead of firing to first base, the senior attempted, to no avail, to catch Bostwick leaning at second base.

Odom and Stevens followed with RBI singles through the right side of the infield for North's first lead of the game. The Panthers then turned to reliever Mark Smith to quiet the storm, but Aaron Marlia greeted him with a bunt single to load the bases. Earle tacked on a sacrifice fly to drive in another run, and Bedortha followed with an RBI single.

After Hayden Wolfe walked, Bruhns belted a two-run single to left-center field to knock out Smith. Adamson moved to the mound but didn't fare much better as Bostwick sent a high fly ball to right-center that fell to the ground for a double when there was miscommunication in the outfield.

Jones added a single before the Panthers finally got out of the inning.

"Hitting is contagious; we talk about that all the time," said coach Wolfe. "If you get one guy going, pretty soon you gain confidence and it makes the next guy loose because now you're not looking for the first one, you're looking for the next one."

The outburst also paid dividends for Bedortha, who was a little rusty following a 16-day layoff from pitching. The right-hander allowed seven of South's 11 hits over the first four innings and three of his five walks in that same span.

"I was kinda struggling a little bit in the beginning and a couple other times there, but I just kinda worked through that and my team came through in the fifth inning there," said Bedortha, who improved to 4-0.

"These guys have worked from behind a lot this year and seem to always answer back," added the senior. "I just tried to keep my composure and keep throwing strikes to keep the score close, and it turned out to work."

South scrambled for a run in the sixth after a triple by Trent Smith and single by Boyd, but North answered with an RBI grounder by Bostwick in the seventh for the final margin.

"It all boils down to those little intangibles that win games for you," said Britton. "North has that with all their experience, but the South kids are getting there."

Wolfe agreed.

"They've got some kids that can play," said the North coach, singling out Trent Smith. "I think we just were fortunate enough to put all those hits together in the fifth inning and came out with a good win."

North Medford 000 190 1 — 11 12 1

South Medford 100 201 0 — 4 11 0

S. Bedortha and Bruhns; Holm, M. Smith (5), Adamson (5) and Williamson. W — S. Bedortha (4-0). L — Holm (1-2). 2B — NM: Odom, Bostwick. 3B — SM: T. Smith.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

South Medford’s John Adamson tries to steal third but is tagged out by North’s Aaron Marlia in the sixth inning. - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven