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Mustangs are off to hot start

Medford Mustangs ace Jordan Lewis had something to prove in an American Legion AAA Area 4 state playoff game against the Grants Pass Nuggets.

The Mustangs' all-time winningest pitcher suffered the worst outing of his American Legion career in his previous start against those same Nuggets.

Lewis found his groove about midway through the game Monday, and the Mustangs' offense came alive to post an 11-0, seven-inning victory to open the best-of-three series at Harry & David Field. The game was scheduled for nine innings but ended early on the mercy rule.

The two-time defending state champion Mustangs (35-8) play Grants Pass at 6 tonight at Agnew Field in Grants Pass. If necessary, the rubber game would be back at Harry & David at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The Area 4-champion Mustangs have secured at least a No. 2 seed into the state tournament, which begins July 30 in Corvallis.

"(Lewis) got roughed up against those guys last time," Medford manager Sandee Kensinger said. "He was excited to redeem himself.

"I never worry about Jordan," he added. "He has the experience. This will be his fourth state tournament for us, and he pitched two games in the junior college World Series as a freshman."

Lewis was selected to the all-World Series tournament team in helping Western Nevada Junior College to a third-place finish in the spring.

The 19-year-old left-hander issued his only two walks and allowed five of the six hits he would surrender in the first four innings. Then Lewis (7-1) settled down, retiring 10 straight batters at one point and allowing only one base runner over the final three innings. He registered his 39th lifetime victory for the Mustangs against just four loses.

"The last two times against Grants Pass, my curveball wasn't working," said Lewis. "I was over-throwing it and wasn't too successful."

That seemed to be Lewis' pattern again early in the game.

Grants Pass got two base runners — a walk and a single — in the first. But a double play ended the inning.

Lewis walked his former Phoenix High teammate, Jordan Decker, to open the second and also gave up a single to Brock Dean before getting Keith Suits to pop up to first baseman Garrett Tygerson to end the frame.

In the third, Ryan Miller opened with a double for Grants Pass.

The Nuggets got a pair of singles sandwiched around a fly out in the fourth, but Lewis struck out Dean and Suits to end the threat.

"That was a key and seemed to get us going," said Lewis about the back-to-back strikeouts. "I hadn't racked up too many strikeouts against this team."

After that, the only base runner came on a two-out single by Suits in the Nuggets' last at bat.

"It wasn't until about the fifth inning until I started feeling good," said Lewis, who struck out four. "There was too much thinking involved, not enough just doing it. I was thinking too much about my mechanics."

While Lewis was shutting out Grants Pass, the Mustangs' offense chipped away against Grants Pass starter Taylor Bars.

In the second, Isaac Rolie collected the first of his three singles, driving in Ian Kendall with the Mustangs' first run. And Max Gordon hit a sacrifice fly that gave Medford a 2-0 lead.

Gordon, who stretched his hitting streak to 13 games, was a catalyst for the Medford offense. The Mustangs' lead-off hitter went 2-for-2 with three RBIs and scored twice.

"I've been confident lately at the plate," said Gordon, who entered the game batting .405. "I've been seeing the ball pretty good."

Colin Sowers, the Mustangs's No. 9 hitter, had a good offensive day with three singles and two runs scored.

With Medford guaranteed a state tournament spot and also a berth the Northwest Regional Tournament as the host, Kensinger was concerned about a letdown against a Grants Pass team that made it into the playoffs by winning four straight games.

"Grants Pass ran the table and they have nothing to lose," said Kensinger. "Our players did their job today and did it with enthusiasm."

Kensinger was glad to see his squad return to the high level of execution that he observed earlier in the season.

"We've been a little complacent the last two weeks," he said. "It's not easy when you know you're in the state tournament and the regionals. We want to play well and establish some momentum. We want to earn our way."

Grants Pass Nuggets 000 000 0 — 0 6 2

Medford Mustangs 020 432 x — 11 12 0

Bars, Spencer (4), Madrigal (6) and Robinson; Lewis and Sowers. W — Lewis (7-1). L — Bars. 2B — GP: Smith.

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 776-4480, or e-mail fsilow@mailtribune.com

Mustangs are off to hot start