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Melton relishes national award

Former South Medford player Jacob Melton was chosen national player of the week. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University.

Few people are regarded as the best in the nation — at anything or for any length of time.

Jacob Melton now knows what it feels like.

The former South Medford baseball standout, a first baseman and outfielder for Oregon State, was named the national player of the week by both Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game after scorching opposing pitchers last week.

Melton highlighted an 11-for-18 week with a three-home run game — including a grand slam — against Utah on Friday. It was the first three-homer game for the Beavers in 20 years.

The honors were announced this week, as was recognition as the Pac-12 Conference player of the week.

“That’s definitely really special,” said Melton of the national acclaim. “It’s something I’ve been working hard for. That wasn’t really a goal of mine, per se, but I’m definitely doing the best I can to put myself in a good spot to be able to perform on the field, both mentally and physically.”

In the big game against Utah, Melton was 4-for-5 and drove in seven runs in a 17-3 victory.

He had a couple two-homer games in high school, but had never gone deep thrice in one contest.

“I was probably more surprised than most of the other people there,” he laughed.

The barrage was part of a remarkable streak over five games against the Utes and Washington.

Melton, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, went 14-for-19 during that stretch. He cooled off on Saturday, going 0-for-3, then went 3-for-3 on Monday in a nonconference game against Gonzaga.

Melton made a slight adjustment at the plate 1½ weeks ago that allowed him to see the ball better.

“I kind of just put all the pieces together that Friday night, and it was a pretty special day for me,” he said.

Managing expectations after such a performance was the next chore, and something he and a coach discussed on Wednesday.

“My big thing that I’ve been using this year to handle success and failure has just been falling back on my work that I put in in the offseason,” said Melton. “I put in a crazy amount of hours in the (batting) cage, so that really helps me humble myself through the success and through the failures. I know that whatever comes out of every game was meant to be because I put myself in the best position that I could for every game.”

Melton leads the Pac-12 Conference in hitting heading into the Beavers’ three-game weekend series at Oregon. The first game is at 5:45 p.m. today.

OSU tops the Pac-12 with a 7-2 record and is 21-7 overall. They dropped two of three in a series against the Ducks (16-7, 3-3 Pac-12) in mid-March.

The Beavers are ranked 13th by Collegiate Baseball, and Oregon is 20th.

Melton is batting .469 for the season, with 30 hits in 64 at-bats. Despite starting only 16 of the 23 games he’s played in, he’s tied for third among the Beavers with four home runs and has driven in 17 runs.

“Honestly, all the numbers and stuff, it’s pretty hard not to see them,” said Melton, “but for me, it’s kind of just not putting too much emphasis on them and going out and playing the next game the same way you played the last game.”

He noted, for instance, the 0-for game a day after his monster performance.

“It’s kind of what you expect with baseball,” said Melton. “It’s a game of ups and downs. The people that handle the roller coaster the best often end the season with the best numbers.”

Melton, a 2018 South Medford graduate, was a two-time first-team all-state player for the Panthers before heading to Linn-Benton Community College in Albany.

As a freshman for the Roadrunners, he was first-team all-Northwest Conference and a Gold Glove winner.

He batted .365 with 14 doubles, seven triples, three home runs, 39 RBIs and 16 stolen bases for LBCC.

That season earned him a spot at Oregon State, and although he only started three games and played in seven of the Beavers’ 14 games last spring before the season was halted because of COVID-19, it was a valuable indoctrination as it prepared him for this year.

“I had an idea of what to expect,” said Melton. “I figured I’d be stepping into the same role I had last year, but I’ve made the most of my opportunities so far and I’ve found myself in the lineup more often than I did last year. I think that experience last year was really big for me. It kind of got my foot in the door.”

The move to first base was unexpected. A month before this season, the coaches asked if he had played the position, and he told them he had at South Medford.

“I’ve been over there quite a bit this year,” said Melton, “so hopefully that’s where I’m going to stick. I kind of like it over there.”

With Oregon on deck, the Beaver players have had a bit more energy, a bit more pep in their step, said Melton.

“As much as you don’t want to make any one game or one series mean more than any other, it’s definitely a different feeling,” he said.

In the previous series, Oregon captured the first two games, 7-0 and 3-0, before OSU won the third, 3-1. Melton was 1-for-3 in each of the first two and didn’t play in the third.

In the last seven full seasons, the Beavers have finished third or better in the Pac-12 each year, with three championships.

In 2018, they made their seventh appearance in the College World Series and won their third national title. The other two crowns were in 2006 and ‘07.

Melton believes OSU is capable of making another charge in the postseason.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the full potential for this team yet,” he said. “I think we’re still trying to figure a lot of stuff out as a team. We’re still trying to get everyone to come together and work together the way we know we can. I think if all those pieces fall together, we could end up making a pretty good run this year.”

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.