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Medford faces stiff test in opener

As much as Medford made a name for itself thanks to its dominant pitching in the Northwest Regional, the Mustangs' opening-day opponent in the American Legion AAA World Series put forth an awesome offensive display to claim the Great Lakes Regional title.

Berryhill Post 165 of Midland, Mich., pounded out an eye-popping nine home runs and 82 hits in six tournament games to earn a second straight trip to the World Series and fourth overall. Post 165 also advanced to the national tournament in 1990 and '96.

"This is their second year in a row so I'm sure they've got kids back with World Series experience and that goes a long way," said Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger, whose team is returning to the national finals for the fourth time overall and first time since 2002. "Just having that experience can help a player do well."

"We don't know a lot about them," he added, "but we've printed up all the stats from other regions and we kinda know who their guys are that we need to be careful with."

Medford and Berryhill play at 3 p.m. Pacific today. The double-elimination World Series runs through Tuesday at Newman Outdoor Field on the campus of North Dakota State University.

Mustang games will be broadcast live on the radio at KCMX 880-AM and at www.tablerocksportsnetwork.com. The American Legion Web site (www.baseball.legion.org) will provide a webcast for all games in the eight-team national tourney.

For Berryhill (49-8), it's kind of pick your poison when you consider three of its top five hitters return from last year's run that included a 1-2 effort in the World Series. The Michigan team hit .358 during the Great Lakes Regional, averaging around nine runs per game.

Heading the list for the 16-time Michigan state champions are returners Jordan Dean, Kyle O'Boyle, Garrett Yatch and Larsen Cronkright.

Dean was named MVP of the state tournament after batting an incredible .737 with six home runs and 21 RBIs, and only slightly cooled off in regional play with two more homers and nine RBIs to go with a .346 batting average. The shortstop, who hit .389 with 14 RBIs in last year's final two tourneys, had both homers and six of his RBIs to put Berryhill in the regional final.

O'Boyle, who pitches and plays first base, provided the bulk of his team's power in the regional, sporting a .929 slugging percentage after five of his 10 hits cleared the fence. He also had one double and 12 RBIs in the six games.

Second baseman Yatch led his team by hitting .514 in last year's regional and World Series tournaments, and hit .467 to pace Post 165 during last week's Great Lakes Regional. Center fielder Cronkright hit .355 last year and is at .348 after regional play this year.

Berryhill pounded a combined 34 hits in its final two games of the regional, having come back from a second-day loss to eventual runner-up Hammond, Ind. Catcher Cole Martin had five of those hits, including a homer — one of Berryhill's five in the game — and four RBIs to earn his team a rematch with Indiana.

Third baseman Eric Dawson is another key returner for Berryhill, along with outfielder/pitcher Matt Cresswell and pitchers Ryan Longstreth, Sean Hartman and Ben Singer.

Longstreth, a left-handed pitcher with college experience, is the team's ace and likely will take the mound against the Mustangs today. He boasts a fastball in the mid-to-upper 80s, complemented by an effective changeup and curveball.

Longstreth was by far Berryhill's most effective pitcher in the regional, allowing only two unearned runs in 16 innings for two complete-game victories. He struck out 19 and walked only three, allowing only nine hits in 57 at-bats.

The Mustangs (45-10) typically would roll out their own left-handed ace in Jordan Lewis, but Kensinger and company have opted to give the Western Nevada standout an extra day of rest after making quick returns to the mound the past few weeks. Lewis, who is a program-best 43-4 overall and 11-1 this summer, pitched Monday's regional championship game.

"He's made that turn time and time again and we just said, 'You're going to get an extra day,' and I think he's going to appreciate it and come out really, really fresh for Saturday's game," said Kensinger of Lewis, who has a team-best 1.37 ERA this summer and didn't allow a run in regional play.

Instead, Medford will hand the ball to right-hander Neil Emerson, who pitched a four-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts and one walk in his only regional appearance. The Oregon Tech standout is 9-0 this summer with a 2.09 ERA.

"That's a real drop-off, isn't it, going to Neil," Kensinger said with a laugh. "Both of those kids are just so mild mannered. They don't think too much about it, they just go out and pitch. They trust their stuff and trust their defense and just go out and get the job done."

While some might be concerned with opening a tournament differently than the Mustangs have all season, the local boys don't appear fazed.

"We're confident with anyone starting it," third baseman Griffin Boyd said of today's opener. "Our whole staff, one through four, has shown they can throw great games and Neil hasn't lost a game yet, knock on wood, so hopefully that can continue."

Lewis, Emerson, Matt Maurer and Dylan Bedortha were part of a starting pitching staff that, along with reliever Bradey Shipley, managed to post a stingy 0.21 ERA in five regional victories.

"If we can just have our pitchers keep the same mentality and hopefully our bats come alive like they did in the championship game against Washington (on Monday), I think we can compete with anyone out there," added Boyd.

Lending Medford a little more confidence as it goes in search of its first national championship is the fact that the Northwest champion has advanced to the title game in three of the last five years and six of the last 12, including the Mustangs' runner-up showing in 1997.

Offensively, Ian Kendall has paced Medford throughout the summer as part of an Ashland connection that has included center fielder Max Gordon, first baseman Garrett Tygerson, catcher Lewis Sebrell and pitcher Charlie Sebrell.

Kendall, a left fielder who will be an incoming senior at Ashland High, leads the Mustangs with a .420 batting average and 13 home runs. He's also driven in 59 runs and scored 50 to go with 17 doubles.

Second baseman Chris Bradshaw has been another standout at the plate (.392, 51 runs, 39 RBIs) and recently has stepped up his defensive play to form a steady combination up the middle with shortstop Zack Earle (.367, seven HRs, 56 runs, 53 RBIs).

Gordon (.387, 51 runs, 29 RBIs), Tygerson (.376, six HRs, 40 runs, 64 RBIs), Maurer (.361, 31 runs, 24 RBIs) and Boyd (.354, five HRs, 42 runs, 40 RBIs) have also been key in turning over the batting order.

Along with the change on the mound, Lewis Sebrell will get the call behind the plate since he typically catches for Emerson, while Sowers is the primary catcher for Lewis and Maurer. Despite playing in only three of Medford's five regional games, Sebrell led Medford with a .444 batting average.

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