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Hornbrook plays the hero in Mustangs win

Few beg to be in the spotlight as much as Medford left fielder Jessie Hornbrook, and he found just that spot Wednesday in the Mustangs' opening game against Wilson Alpenrose Dairy at the American Legion AAA state tournament.

With the chance to play hero as Medford battled for a rally in its final at-bat, Hornbrook came through with a flourish in leading the Mustangs to a remarkable 6-5 win over Wilson at Concordia University in Portland.

His inside-the-park, three-run home run with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning set off a celebratory dogpile and pushed Medford one step closer to its ultimate goal at the eight-team tournament.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking considering I didn't even get to be a part of it," said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben, who had to serve a one-game suspension after being ejected during the deciding game of the Salem Super Regional. "I had to sit in the stands and really couldn't watch most of it. I was in the right field bleachers pacing back and forth and going underneath the stadium to get away and all sorts of things because it was just one of those games."

Veteran Mustangs coach Sandee Kensinger, who stepped down as manager prior to last season but remained on staff as an assistant coach, steered the ship once again Wednesday and definitely showed his worth in the final inning.

The Mustangs (28-20) trailed 5-3 when Taylor Humphrey drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second base on a wild pitch by Blake Updike prior to a flyball out by Ethan Schlecht. Billy Hansen followed with a swinging bunt single to put runners at the corners, then Hornbrook took the next pitch over the center fielder's head at the spacious ballpark that goes 425 feet to center field.

"When Jessie hit the shot to center field, I was just praying it was going to get over his head," said Mayben. "With that deep field and the fact that it's turf it got all the way to the wall and when it does that it's an automatic triple."

Had Hornbrook and Kensinger simply settled for that automatic slot the game would've only been tied with two more outs to play with, but both didn't flinch in going for the game-winner against Wilson (21-14).

"They were lined up to go to third base and coach Kensinger relayed him home and they weren't ready for it," Mayben said of the instant in-game maneuver. "They actually relayed the ball to third base just as Jessie was walking across home plate."

Even Mayben said the play took him a bit by surprised as he sat back in his role as observer.

"Down two runs with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, it was shocking," he said. "Really when it happened you just were hoping the guy from first scores and he does and all of a sudden I see Jessie running all the way around and into a big dogpile behind the plate."

"If you're not part of a ballgame, it definitely is nice being able to hand the ball to that guy because he knows what he's doing," Mayben added of Kensinger.

Mayben will be back in the dugout when Medford returns to face the Grants Pass Nuggets at 3:30 p.m. today in another championship bracket clash. The Area 4 champion Nuggets, comprised of several Crater High standouts, scored a 5-3 win over the Corvallis Gerding Builders on Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, the Salem Withnell Dodgers beat the Eugene Challengers 3-1 and the Springfield Titans were slated to play tourney host Northwest Star Academy in the late game.

Hornbrook entered the state tournament hitting .297 and went 2-for-5 with two runs and three RBIs against Wilson, which faces an elimination game against Corvallis at 9 this morning. Hansen finished 2-for-4 with two runs, but Medford did strand 10 baserunners against Wilson.

Medford tied the game at 1-all in the fourth on an RBI single by Ryan Wellock, then answered a pair of Wilson runs with one of its own in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI double by Schlecht. Hornbrook scored on an error in the eighth to pull Medford within 5-3.

Medford starter Jamie Flynn allowed four runs in seven innings but only two were earned as the Mustangs committed four errors overall. Flynn struck out four and walked two before handing the ball over to A.J. Doolittle, who gave up one run in two innings but earned the win behind four strikeouts.

"The guys did a good job of not letting those errors compound," said Mayben. "Yeah they scored a couple on them but they did a good job of bouncing right back and getting the next out. They just did a solid job pitching-wise and hopefully we'll get another one of those efforts (against Grants Pass)."

After a pair of consecutive errors put runners on second and third in the seventh, Flynn bowed his back and didn't allow a run to score. The Ashland product made a key play on a squeeze bunt when he faked a throw to first and nabbed the lead runner at third, then struck out the next batter.

Wilson Alpenrose Dairy 001 020 110 — 5 7 1

Medford Mustangs 000 110 013 — 6 9 4

Blatt, Updike (8) and De Nevers; Flynn, Doolittle (8) and Westhelle-Grant. W — Doolittle (4-1). L — Updike. 2B — W: Hagge; M: Schlecht. 3B — W: Hagge. HR — M: Hornbrook (2).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry