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Mustangs fall short

KLAMATH FALLS — Medford put itself in prime position for a 12th state championship in American Legion AAA play but simply couldn't seal the deal here Sunday at Kiger Stadium.

The Area 4 champion Mustangs stormed through the opening four days of the state tournament to set up a situation where Roseburg Dr. Stewart's had to win two games in order to steal the crown away.

Unfortunately for the Medford faithful, that's exactly what Roseburg was able to do despite a poor track record against the Mustangs heading into Sunday's action. Medford had prevailed in four of the five meetings between the teams this season — including a 15-5 thrashing of the Docs in the tourney on Friday — but was out of sync all day and couldn't thwart an almost flawless effort by its league rival.

Dr. Stewart's opened a 9-0 lead in the first game and withstood a ninth-inning rally to take the morning contest, 9-6, and force a winner-take-all second game. In Game 2, Roseburg used a five-run first inning to take control and again did just enough to fend off another Medford rally to clinch its 11th state title with an 8-7 triumph.

Roseburg (28-14) took full advantage of 13 walks and six hit batters in the twin bill to claim the sweep and its first state title since 1986.

"We helped them out quite a bit," said Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger. "We had way too many walks and hit batters, and most of them wound up scoring. We paid for everything that we gave them today."

"I know the kids are disappointed but that's part of life," added Kensinger, whose team will miss the chance to defend the Northwest Regional title it won last summer. "You don't always get the things that you want and things don't always go your way. But hey, no one can take away what we did this summer. We provided a great place for kids to play and had a lot of fun and got some kids some looks and that's what we're all about. I sure would've liked to have gone on, but that's the way it goes."

As bad as it was for the Mustangs (38-10), who appeared sluggish throughout the day after playing the late game the previous two nights, they still had a chance at salvaging things with a ninth-inning rally in Game 2.

Bidding for its third state crown in four years, Medford erased most of an 8-4 deficit in its final at-bat.

Seth Brown opened the ninth with an infield single, just beating a throw by shortstop Johnny Farrington after a nifty diving stop and throw. Cody James was then hit by a pitch to put an end to a stellar showing by Roseburg starter Josh Graham. Tournament MVP Brandon Jackson, who pitched into the ninth inning of Game 1, got the call to quiet the threat and immediately induced a popup by Matt Maurer for the first out.

Garrett Tygerson, fighting off a sprained ankle suffered at the end of Game 1, followed with a single off the top of the fence in the right field corner but all that did was load the bases as Brown held up between second and third to see if right fielder Mitch Huff would make the catch.

Lucas Stone followed with a two-run single to right field to make it 8-6, and Bradey Shipley's hard liner toward second baseman Austin Stone offered a hint of destiny when it skipped right over the fielder's glove for an RBI single by the Game 2 starter.

With the tying run on third and only one out, the Mustangs appeared on the verge of yet another amazing comeback. They scored seven unanswered runs late Saturday night to earn a 12-11 win over Salem Post 9 and put themselves in the driver's seat.

Jackson waged a good battle with Justin Bohn before ultimately getting a strikeout on a 2-2 pitch for the second out. Down to its final out, Medford had leadoff hitter Colin Sowers come to the plate, but his rough day carried on with a first-pitch groundout to third baseman Derek Priestley.

"I have a lot of faith in Colin," Shipley said of the all-state catcher. "He's hit good all year and he's the guy that I would want at the plate in that position. It's baseball for you, you can't win 'em all. It just wasn't our day."

That especially was true for Medford's top two hitters, Sowers and second baseman Dan Katayama, who entered the tourney hitting a team-best .464. The duo combined to go 0-for-10 in the pivotal second game. Sowers, who hit .453 in the regular season, spent the better part of the day using his body to block pitches well off target, and seemed to be favoring his left wrist throughout the second game.

"Colin has a tough job and he lays it all on the line," said Maurer, who suffered the opening-game loss on the hill. "He was getting destroyed on every pitch, especially from me today and then coming from Bradey. It's tough for him to hit and get destroyed all day. He kept fighting all day and worked as hard as he could, that's just the way it ended up."

Maurer dropped to 6-1 after allowing three runs on five hits in six innings of work in Game 1. The Pepperdine-bound left-hander, who was pulled after 125 pitches, struck out nine but also walked four and hit two. Michael Bradshaw allowed only one hit in a quick relief effort in the seventh, but couldn't maintain that groove in the eighth after a pair of one-out walks were followed by three straight Roseburg hits that pushed its lead up to 7-0. Sean Pearson allowed two straight RBI hits before getting out of the jam.

Those extra runs proved crucial as Medford scratched back with six runs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 1. Shipley and Isaac Rolie each had RBI singles off Jackson, and Katayama added a two-run single off the center-field fence to chase the right-hander.

Brown greeted reliever Huff with a single to right field and James followed with a two-run double down the left-field line. The rally was cut short at 9-6, however, when Maurer's fly ball was tracked down by left fielder Kyle Jaukkuri for the final out.

The Mustangs had hoped to use the late rally as a springboard into the second game, but Roseburg stole their thunder with five runs in the first after Shipley walked the first two batters and Huff reached on a bunt to load the bases. After an RBI groundout, Graham deposited a high curveball over the right-field fence for a three-run homer. Another costly walk, a double by Jackson and a wild pitch made it 5-0.

Shipley wound up going six innings before being replaced by Bohn. The Nevada-bound right-hander walked seven, hit three batters and allowed seven hits and eight runs — six earned — coming off two days rest.

"That's not typical of Bradey," Kensinger said of Shipley's free passes.

Like Jackson, who stymied Medford for the bulk of Game 1 thanks to stellar defensive support, Graham was on top of his game for Dr. Stewart's. The right-hander started the contest by tossing 16 straight pitches for strikes and continually went after the vaunted Medford lineup — throwing 99 of his 131 pitches for strikes. It cost him on a couple occasions, but Graham was steady in striking out eight and allowing 10 hits in eight innings.

"We hadn't seen that kid all year and he was just pretty much rearing back and throwing at us," said Kensinger. "He started changing speeds a little bit toward the middle, but he did a good job."

Medford tallied three runs in the third on RBI singles by Bohn and James and an RBI double by Brown to narrow the gap, but Roseburg answered with a run in the bottom of the inning. It might have been more, but Bohn made a perfect relay home to Sowers to gun down Graham after a Jaukkuri double toward Tygerson in the left-center gap.

Maurer's RBI double in the fifth made it 6-4, but the wheels fell off a bit in the sixth when two walks and a hit batter by Shipley loaded the bases. Vince Ampi then chopped a ball to James at third base, who had to charge in on the play and couldn't get a handle on the ball for a run-scoring error. Shipley then hit Jaukkuri on a two-out pitch to plate another run and make it 8-4.

Those two runs proved critical considering the Mustangs' late rally, but it was far more than that half inning that caused Medford to fall short of its goal.

"We're an energy type of ballclub and we just didn't have that energy today trying to get up early after a couple late nights," said Maurer, who was 14-for-27 in the tourney with eight doubles, three home runs and 15 RBIs. "I was one of the first ones asleep last night and got all my stuff done quick and that was (midnight for a 7 a.m. turnaround)."

Medford, which lost pitcher/left fielder Ian Kendall to the Tampa Bay Rays organization last week, also stranded eight runners in the 10 a.m. opener and 12 in Game 2.

"The guys that normally lead us for hitting today just didn't seem to have it going for them," said Maurer. "Everyone sorta struggled today."

FIRST GAME

Roseburg Dr. Stewart's 101 001 060 — 9 1 0

Medford Mustangs 000 000 006 — 6 11 2

Jackson, Huff (9) and Ampi; Maurer, Bradshaw (7), Pearson (8) and Sowers. W — Jackson (5-1). L — Maurer (6-1). 2B — R: Huff 2, Priestley, Ampi; M: Sowers, Maurer, James.

SECOND GAME

Medford Mustangs 003 010 003 — 7 13 1

Roseburg Dr. Stewart's 501 002 00x — 8 8 1

Shipley, Bohn (7) and Sowers; Graham, Jackson (9) and Ampi. W — Graham (6-1). L — Shipley (5-2). 2B — M: Shipley, Brown, Maurer; R: Jackson, Jaukkuri, Farrington. HR — R: Graham.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

Mustang center fielder #8 dives for the ball but can't scoop it in the first game. Andy Atkinson photo