CENTRAL POINT — North Jackson head coach Mike Newmann had a heart-to-heart talk with starting pitcher and recent Eagle Point High graduate Ty Atler prior to Saturday's elimination game against Area 4 rival North Medford.
"I told (Atler), 'Either this can be the last game that you ever play your whole life, or you can lead your team deeper into the playoffs and give yourself an opportunity to play at the next level.'"
Thanks to a little help from his friends and some heroics of his own, Atler stepped through door No. 2.
Atler pitched a shaky but clutch two-hitter and drove in the go-ahead runs with a monster bases-loaded double in the sixth as the Eagles bounced North Medford from the American Legion A state tournament with a 3-1 comeback victory at Anhorn Field.
The win, North Jackson's second in five tries against North Medford, earned the Eagles (23-18) another loser-out game at 3 p.m. today against Grants Pass. North Medford, the Area 4 champions, finishes 45-15.
Atler struck out six in his eighth complete-game of the summer, but also walked five and hit two North Medford batters. He came through when it mattered most, though, escaping four jams with runners in scoring position.
"(Atler) did what he needed to do to win the ball game," Newmann said. "He kept them off balance and we moved runners around and guys hit in the right situations. It was definitely a team effort."
Atler was one of those guys who hit in the right situation. Actually, it turned out to be the most important situation when he stepped up to the plate with the score tied 1-1, the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
"We both exchanged smiles," Newmann said, "and I said, 'Hey, this is what's it's all about.'"
Atler fell behind 1-2, watched the next pitch miss the strike zone by a hair, then crushed Bryan Carbonell's 2-2 offering to deep left. Two runs scored on the play, giving the Eagles the lead and an insurance run.
North made it interesting in the seventh when Christian Gillis capped a long at-bat with a leadoff walk, but the next batter, Carbonell, ripped a hard grounder right to Eagles' third baseman Johnny Wilkerson, who started a rally-killing 5-4-3 double play.
Moments later, North Jackson was celebrating its biggest win of the season and North Medford, which had four incoming sophomores and a freshman (starting pitcher Colton Westfall) in its starting lineup, was finished.
"The whole season our kids were outstanding," North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe said. "We were fortunate to play in a state tournament (and) in a playoff atmosphere. This is a good experience for the kids."
The Mavericks saw several offensive opportunities slip away, failing to score with at least a baserunner on second and one out in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings.
North Medford also committed two costly errors, which led to all three of the Eagles' runs.
In the top of the fifth, a misread and throwing error to third base by shortstop Taylor Raff allowed North Jackson to tie the game at 1.
In the sixth, North Medford induced a pair of outs before North Jackson's James Dixon earned a walk and Daniel Morgan reached on a throwing error. North Jackson followed with an infield single by Zack Meerten, setting up Atler's big hit.
"When you play that many games you will have ups and downs," Wolfe said. "Today we were a little flat."
Atler was 2-for-2 with two doubles to lead the Eagles at the plate.
AJ Miller's double was the only extra-base hit of the game for North Medford. He scored the Mavericks' only run on a fielder's choice ground out in the second inning.
North Medford 010 000 0 — 1 2 3
North Jackson 000 012 x — 3 4 2
Westfall, Carbonell (6) and Zavala; Atler and Morgan. W — Atler (7-2). L — Westfall. 2B — NM: Miller; NJ: Atler 2.