Their biggest task is yet to come
Good is the enemy of greatness, because everyone's good ... just ask them. "How are you? Good."
That was the sentiment Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey made sure to impart on all the baseball players during last Wednesday's banquet speech prior to the American Legion AAA Northwest Regionals here in Medford.
His notion was that greatness can never be achieved without a willingness to go the extra mile and put yourself at risk for failure.
Similarly, the belief that a player or team is "capable" is no replacement for ultimately getting the job done. Sporting history is filled with athletes and teams capable of being champions, yet never reach the pinnacle.
Several factors aligned to help the Medford Mustangs turn in one of the most dominant efforts in regional tournament history over the weekend, capped Monday by a 14-0 throttling of a good team from Bellevue, Wash.
The Mustangs' performance during an undefeated run against champions from Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Washington and the California runner-up was impressive to say the least. But we will get a better glimpse of just how special this Medford team is when the local boys open play in the World Series beginning Friday in Fargo, N.D.
The Mustangs were by far the most experienced team in their regional, with Montana fielding mostly high school sophomores and other teams expected to return around nine players off their 15-man roster next summer.
Some teams lost key players leading up to the regional tournament, few more vital than Spencer Rogers for runner-up Lakeside Recovery. Rogers led his team with a .477 batting average, six home runs, six triples and 50 RBIs through the regular season, and hit .550 with a pair of homers in the Washington state tournament. Rogers, who has signed with the University of Washington, skipped the regionals to attend a family reunion in Hawaii.
Another factor in Medford's favor involved the boundless support from its hometown fans at Harry & David Field. The Northwest Regional enjoyed the biggest turnout of all eight regions by far, finishing with an estimated attendance of 7,200 over the five days of play. In the Mustangs' final two games, the attendance was 1,180 and 1,500.
"The crowds that we had, that's got to be a little intimidating," Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger said after Monday's championship game. "None of these kids have played in front of that kind of a crowd. The support's just been unbelievable."
Those factors don't stand to be in place when Medford opens its final quest Friday at 3 p.m. Pacific against Berryhill Post 165 of Midland, Mich., which joins Las Vegas Post 76 as the only teams returning to the World Series.
Then again, outside influences can only alter so much.
Those nasty pitches delivered by Jordan Lewis, Neil Emerson, Matt Maurer, Dylan Bedortha and Bradey Shipley were for real and would've given any opponent fits. Figures like 17 hits allowed and a 0.21 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 43 innings are earned, not given.
The baseball didn't know that it was being sent on a scorching journey by a .500 hitter or .200 hitter before it was ultimately gathered up in acrobatic fashion by the likes of third baseman Griff Boyd, shortstop Zack Earle, second baseman Chris Bradshaw or outfielders Ian Kendall, Max Gordon and Isaac Rolie.
And as much as being more experienced is a benefit, it's not the divining rod toward victory.
Of all the aspects that will be different at this week's World Series, a smaller rooting section for Medford may be missed the most. Then again, anyone in earshot of the Sebrell family section can attest that one person's hearty support potentially can equal that of 10 others — that's, of course, meant in the best of ways.
The Mustangs (45-10) will be making their fourth trip to the World Series, earning spots among the final eight in 1992, '97 and 2002 prior to this season.
The 1997 squad continues to be the standard to which all Mustang teams are stacked up against after it posted a 4-2 record in the World Series and finished as runner-up to Sanford, Fla.
By a quirk of scheduling in the Rapid City, S.D. tourney, Medford actually had to square off against the Florida team on three occasions, posting a 1-2 record against the eventual champs, including an 11-8 loss in the championship final.
The Mustangs went 0-2 in 1992 when the World Series was also played in Fargo, and, most recently, posted a 1-2 record in 2002 in Danville, Va.
Upon first glance, defending champion Las Vegas Post 76 stands to be the favorite heading into this week's tournament, but the Michigan squad went 1-2 in the World Series last year and returns four of its top five hitters and five pitchers with World Series experience.
But, as any coach will tell you when unloading the typical clichés, the games aren't played on paper. Numbers and names are just that, it's what you do on the field that counts.
And if Medford is to accomplish something never before achieved in Mustangs' history, it will be because the players embrace the challenge of greatness and don't settle for being capable.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail email@example.com