Pride in Performance
Falling short of a goal rarely leads to positive feelings but, to a man, Medford Mustangs players and coaches said they had no reason to feel anything but positive after reflecting on a season that ended Sunday one win shy of an American Legion AAA state championship.
From the program records set to earning another Area 4 championship or showing true grit after an adverse start at the state tourney, there was something for all to hang their hats on this summer.
"It's disappointing to not come away with (a 12th state title) but at the same time I had a lot of fun this summer and played with a lot of good guys and I'll never forget it," said Mustangs outfielder Seth Brown. "I think we all left it out on the field and played 100 percent so I'm proud of the team and I'm proud of the way I played."
If anyone deserved to feel proud of his efforts, it certainly was Brown, who in only two years was able to make his mark as one of the best to ever don a Mustang uniform. The sweet-swinging lefty put up staggering numbers for the second straight year, hitting safely in 47 of the team's 50 games to finish fourth in program history with a .510 batting average.
"The kid didn't have a slump all year," said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. "He's probably one of the best hitters I've ever had the opportunity to coach. He just keeps it simple at the plate and puts a great swing on every pitch and gives himself a chance. He's one of those natural hitters."
For the season, Brown drove in 78 runs, scored 73 times and was 99-for-194 with a team-best nine home runs and a .784 slugging percentage. He drew 24 walks and struck out only 12 times hitting out of the No. 3 slot, and also boasted a .951 fielding percentage.
Brown had hoped to eclipse the team's single-season record for batting average set in 1983 by Jordan Stevens (.519) but he topped out at .514 before ultimately settling in behind Mike Allen and Chad Hegdahl, who each hit .512 during one summer.
"I gave it a run but that's baseball," said Brown, who was 16-for-31 with nine runs and 12 RBIs in six state tournament games. "It's a helluva record and pretty high up there; you can't go out there and get a basehit every time. I'm just proud and excited for the way I played this summer and just proud of the way I finished."
Mayben said that even though Brown had the full team's support in his effort to reach that milestone, he was impressed how the 19-year-old never placed it above the greater good for the squad.
"He knows what's important," added the first-year manager. "He may have wanted that hitting record but I guarantee you he wanted a state championship more than that. He knew what his priorities were and what he needed to do for the team and he did everything he could do."
Brown's efforts didn't go totally without acclaim, however, as his two-year career batting average of .483 now sits atop the Mustang record book. Stevens previously held the mark for his .465 run covering the 1982 and '83 seasons.
"It's very exciting to be able to have that record," said Brown, who will play at Merced Junior College next season. "It's pretty awesome and I'm very privileged to be able to come out and do what I did this year and last year."
Mustangs general manager Don Schneider said it's almost a shame Brown's name will only be found in two categories on the Mustang record book given his remarkable production. In only two seasons, he amassed 182 hits (just 38 shy of fifth place), 145 RBIs (just 17 shy of fourth place) and 127 runs scored.
"Had he played more than two years, he'd be probably No. 1 in virtually everything," said Schneider. "In most cases everybody on those lists had at least three and sometimes four years with us, and in most cases they each played at least nine more games in a season than he did. He's got to be the best left-handed hitter we've ever had."
As one of the team's most versatile players, Colin Sowers also reached several milestones in his final season with the Mustangs after a steady four-year run that began in 2008.
The catcher/center fielder moved into the top five in Mustang history for career walks, runs, doubles and times hit by a pitch. He ranks third in walks (100) and fourth in runs scored (206) and doubles (51). He was hit by a pitch 15 times this season to establish a new program high, and his 24 times hit by a pitch tie for third on the all-time ledger.
Sowers hit .377 with 73 runs and 41 RBIs out of the leadoff spot this summer, helping Medford post a team batting average of .370 that ranks fourth all-time.
"That's pretty cool because those guys will be able to look back on that and say, 'I was a big part of that Mustang tradition,'" added Mayben.
Those numbers could have grown even larger had Medford (38-12) been able to pull off one of the finest comebacks in recent history. After falling 12-2 in their state tournament opener to the Salem Withnell Dodgers, the Mustangs staved off elimination with four straight wins before ultimately falling short in a 9-5 championship game loss to Salem Withnell on Sunday.
"To be able to get 10-runned that first day and battle back to get to the championship game says a lot about the character you have as a team," said Mayben. "I couldn't be happier with the guys for making it where they did. It's baseball, you do what you can and whatever happens, happens."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry