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Medford welcomes chance to host regionals

Several months before the Medford Mustangs roster was set, there was a buzz throughout Southern Oregon's baseball community when this city was selected to host the American Legion AAA Northwest Regionals.

From players to coaches to summer baseball fans, the prospect of bringing some of the best and brightest young athletes to Medford for the first time since 1971 ensured that this would be a summer to remember.

And even though the notion of hosting the event has hung over the Mustangs' heads every step of the way, the excitement that the day is finally here is as evident as ever.

"I've been excited for a long time and I'm sure the kids are in anticipation of the level of competition and showing everybody what Medford is all about with our facility and our city and our great fans," says Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger. "The kids will settle it on the field, but it's going to be a great experience for everybody."

State champions from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming and the California runner-up will join the Mustangs in the premier event, which runs Thursday through Monday at Harry & David Field.

Given the level of competition, the race to secure the big trophy and a World Series berth is wide open.

"All the teams that are here are here for a reason and they're all going to be quality teams," says Lewis-Clark manager Tom Grunenfelder, whose Lewiston, Idaho, team opens against Medford around 7 p.m. Thursday. "I don't think it's always the best team that wins it, either. It's whoever is the hottest at the time."

"You've always gotta figure that the Oregon and Washington champions are going to be the favorites because they're bigger states,"

adds Grunenfelder, "but little guys like us have shown that we can do it, too."

The Mustangs (40-10) had hoped to earn their way into regional play as the Oregon state champion, but Corvallis Richey's Market had other designs and secured the title in a deciding sixth game Sunday in Corvallis.

"It was definitely one of those things that we really wanted to win and thought we should've won," says Medford's Matt Maurer of the state crown, "but we didn't and we've just got to refocus and use that pain of watching someone else be able to celebrate and dogpile as motivation for each and every game coming up."

The Mustangs opened the summer in dominating fashion before suffering through ups and downs in July. Whether it was because they played without the carrot of having to win in order to make it to the regionals or because it's the nature of the game, Medford has been less than sharp through the past few weeks and is looking at the regionals as a perfect time to reclaim the team's usual tenacity.

"We're out to prove to everybody that we deserve to be in the regionals regardless of being the host team," says Mustangs ace Jordan Lewis. "Everyone just needs to shake all that other stuff off. Whoever went 0-for in a game or had an error or whatever needs to leave that behind. We need to start over and use the regional tournament as a fresh start."

The only real bugaboo for Medford lately has been an occasional inability to plate runners in scoring position. The consensus among team members is that they just to relax and fun again on the diamond.

"We have games where we absolutely mash the ball and other games where hits are nowhere to be found," says Maurer. "Our biggest problem right now is we just can't seem to get that big hit to score a run or two when we have guys on second or third, but I don't see that lasting. We have guys who know how to get the job done and I'm sure we'll get that turned around."

Lewis and Neil Emerson have been Medford's pitching stalwarts thus far, with Maurer, Bradey Shipley, Dylan Bedortha and Zack Earle each contributing to a 2.61 team ERA.

Already the leading pitcher in Mustang history, Lewis improved to 41-4 in his four years with a pair of shutout victories in the state tournament. The left-hander is 9-1 with a 1.64 ERA this summer, striking out 87 with only 22 walks in 722/3 innings.

Besides posting the most wins in program history, the former Phoenix High standout leads in career strikeouts and innings pitched and entered the summer first with a 1.55 career ERA.

"I never would've imagined it," Lewis says of his record-holder status. "I remember the first time I ever looked through the Mustang record book and wondered, 'Who's that?,' on some of the names. It's kinda weird to look at it this year and see my name on most of them. Weird in a good way, though. Hopefully those records will be staying the way they are after this year for many years to come."

Emerson boasts an 8-0 record and 2.38 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 25 walks in 642/3 innings, while Maurer is 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA and Shipley is 7-1 with a 3.52 ERA. Bedortha (2.89 ERA) and Earle (0.66 ERA) have filled in when needed.

Helping the cause for the pitchers has been a Mustang defense that has posted a program-best .968 fielding percentage, due in large part to the play of Earle at shortstop and Griffin Boyd at third base.

Medford is hitting .351 as a team, led by left fielder Ian Kendall's .434 batting average. The incoming Ashland High senior leads the team with 13 home runs to go with 56 RBIs and 47 runs scored.

Second baseman Chris Bradshaw is hitting .402 with a team-best 78 hits. He has driven in 35 runs, scored 47 runs and stolen bases 10 bases.

Center fielder Max Gordon (.389, 26 RBIs, 47 runs) and first baseman Garrett Tygerson (.386, 61 RBIs, six HRs, 38 runs) have also been cogs out of Ashland, while Earle is batting .374 with seven homers, 21 doubles and four triples. Earle's 32 extra-base hits leads the club, as do his 51 runs. He has 49 RBIs.

Designated hitter Maurer (.363, 21 RBIs, 29 runs), Boyd (.354, 36 RBIs, 38 runs), right fielder Isaac Rolie (.286, 25 RBIs, 23 runs) and catchers Colin Sowers (.402 on-base percentage with team-high 29 walks) and Lewis Sebrell (.234) round out the regulars.

And while winning certainly is the ultimate goal for the Mustangs, the rest of the week's atmosphere won't be lost on the local boys.

"Just hosting the regional and being able to play some of the best teams around, regardless of the outcome, you're making yourself better and it's a fun thing to be a part of," says Lewis.

Tournament Schedule

Harry & David Field

(Times approximate for second games of doubleheaders)

Thursday

Game 1: Cheyenne, Wyo. vs. South Anchorage, Alaska, 9:30 a.m.

Game 2: Charter Cove, Calif. vs. Bellevue, Wash., 12:30 p.m.

Game 3: Billings, Mont. vs. Corvallis, 4 p.m.

Game 4: Lewiston, Idaho vs. Medford, 7 p.m.

Friday

Game 5: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 3, 9:30 a.m.

Game 6: Loser Game 2 vs. Loser Game 4, 12:30 p.m.

Game 7: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 3, 4 p.m.

Game 8: Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 4, 7 p.m.

Saturday

Game 9: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 7, 1 p.m.

Game 10: Winner Game 5 vs. Loser Game 8, 4 p.m.

Game 11: Winner Game 7 vs. Winner Game 8, 7 p.m.

Sunday

Game 12: Winner Game 9 vs. Loser Game 11, 1 p.m.

Game 13: Winner Game 10 vs. Winner Game 11, 4 p.m.

Monday

Game 14: Winner Game 12 vs. Winner Game 13, 1 p.m.

Game 15: If necessary, 4 p.m.

Ticket Prices

Adults, $5

Seniors 60-older, $3

Teenagers, $2

Children under 12, free

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

Medford players gather around manager Sandee Kensinger, far left, during the state tournament last week in Corvallis. - Photo by Cory Reed