Mustangs go deep for sweep
Having already qualified for the American Legion AAA state tournament as the Area 4 champions, Tuesday's twin bill with the Grants Pass Nuggets was as much of a home send-off for the Medford Mustangs as anything.
Cody James and Seth Brown ensured it was a good one for the local fans, with each providing big jolts to the Mustangs' cause with home runs to lead the host team to a league sweep at Harry & David Field.
"We were just trying to finish up strong," said Brown, who entered the night hitting .507 and went 3-for-6 with three runs and five RBIs. "It was me and Cody and a lot of other guys' last game here forever at Harry & David so we were just trying to finish up strong. I thank God for the night I had tonight, it was awesome, and Cody had a great night, too."
James blasted a go-ahead three-run homer in the fifth inning of Game 1 to help send Medford to a 5-4 victory, while Brown belted a solo shot that sparked a four-run third inning and added a three-run bomb during a 10-1 win in Game 2.
First baseman Kyle Treadway also played a key role in the nightcap, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs.
The Mustangs (32-9, 13-3 Area 4) appeared listless and out of rhythm early against the Nuggets, falling behind 4-1 through 41/2 innings. With three weekend games canceled due to poor weather, Medford went five days between games and it showed.
The bottom of the fifth, however, brought signs of life for Medford when Justin Bohn singled to right field with one out and Colin Sowers walked to put runners in scoring position. After a flyout by Jessie Hornbrook, Brown ripped an RBI single through the left side of the infield to make it 4-2.
With runners at the corners, Grants Pass starter Andrew Polder tried to sneak an inside fastball by James, who was having none of it. The former North Medford High standout turned on the offering and delivered a three-run home run that put a scare on the flag in left field.
"That was the biggest jolt of the game, obviously," said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. "He just got underneath one the at-bat before that and then he put one out. That was a big-time hit for us."
"Our timing at the plate was way off," added Mayben. "We were getting hitter's counts but we were late a lot, and I think the time off hurt us a little bit as far as that goes, but then we got better as the game went along. We had a couple hiccups there and a couple errors that were costly errors but we found a way. Good teams find a way, and we did."
While James was the hitting star in a nip-and-tuck opener, relief pitcher Travis Cash also proved pivotal by allowing only one unearned run and one hit over the final 31/3 innings. Cash struck out two and walked one to improve to 6-1 this summer.
"His curveball was awesome today," Mayben said of the right-hander and former Black Tornado. "That thing was breaking off the table hard, and he was throwing strikes. He was getting ahead and doing what pitchers need to do to be successful."
Christian Morrison, Michael Bradshaw and Justin Bohn also pitched well in Game 2 and combined for a three-hitter, but it was the Brown and company show in the Mustangs' final home game.
Derek Cartwright's leadoff double set the stage for an RBI single by Casey Miller to give the Nuggets (26-13, 6-10) a 1-0 lead in the third, but Brown made that effort moot with a no-doubt blast over the right field fence with one out in the bottom half of the frame.
The hits just kept coming from there, with James following with a double that got lost in the lights and Lucas Stone providing an RBI single for a 2-1 advantage. After Ethan Schlecht reached on an error and Kameron Kaufman advanced the runners on a groundout, Treadway laced a two-run double down the first base line for a 4-1 lead.
The Mustangs broke the game open for good in the fifth, sending nine batters to the plate en route to a six-run surge. Back-to-back errors set the tone early, with Treadway adding another RBI double before scoring on a passed ball. Brown then deposited another deep shot over the right field fence off reliever Juan Cortez to make it 10-1.
"They just left the ball in on me tonight a little bit," said Brown. "I struggled a little bit in the first game but I got it under control and had a great night. It was fun."
Instead of being off for a week until the start of the state tournament next Wednesday at Swede Johnson Stadium in Eugene, the Mustangs added a pair of nonleague games to their schedule on Tuesday to make up for lost dates earlier this summer.
Medford will play a single game at Portland Mound Time on Friday and then wrap up the three-game road series with a doubleheader on Saturday. The Mustangs and the Senior Babe Ruth team split an earlier twin bill this season.
As the Area 4 champion, Medford earned an automatic bid to the state tournament, along with three other league champs. The Eugene Challengers, the Area 4 runner-up, also received an automatic bid as the tourney host.
Roseburg, which entered Tuesday tied with GP for the third and final playoff spot, will play in one of three four-team super regionals this weekend to determine the final three at-large berths.
The fourth-place Nuggets and fifth-place Klamath Falls Falcons were eliminated from playoff contention in the first year of this new super regional format.
Grants Pass Nuggets 020 110 0 — 4 6 1
Medford Mustangs 010 040 x — 5 6 3
Polder, Shippy (5) and Schmidt; Thomas, Cash (4) and Kaufman. W — Cash (6-1). L — Polder. HR — M: James (4).
Grants Pass Nuggets 001 000 0 — 1 3 3
Medford Mustangs 004 060 x — 10 9 1
Etheridge, Cortez (3), Armanino (5) and Schmidt, Macuk (5); Morrison, Bradshaw (5), Bohn (7) and Kaufman. W — Morrison (4-1). L — Etheridge. 2B — GP: Cartwright; M: Treadway 2. HR — M: Brown 2 (6).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, facebook.com/krishenryMT or twitter.com/Kris_Henry