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Medford Mustangs win American Legion state title

GRANTS PASS — Always talented, the Medford Mustangs found that intangible factor the team was missing in early July and, quite simply, have never looked back.Medford wrapped up one of the more impressive runs through the American Legion AAA state tournament on Sunday with all those factors at play, dominating the Portland Eastside Barbers for the second time in the five-day event for a 6-1 triumph at Agnew-Lytle Field.For the tournament, the Mustangs scored 37 runs and allowed only 14 during the week, stroking 56 hits overall to keep the pressure on their opponents and bring home the program's 12th state championship and first since back-to-back wins in 2007 and '08."This means a lot," said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben, who was part of the 1997 state championship team. "I played for this program, I grew up watching it and I'm lucky to be a part of it right now. I love to see a smile on (Mustangs General Manager Don Schneider's) face and it feels good to give him No. 12."Medford will next go in search of the Northwest Regional title, with that five-day tournament beginning Thursday at Swede Johnson Stadium in Eugene.Against Portland, Medford (32-13) collected 12 hits for the second straight day and received yet another superb pitching performance, this time by recent North Medford High graduate David Crofton. The right-hander scattered six hits with one walk and four strikeouts in a complete-game effort that saw his only run allowed come in the ninth inning."We approached the game right today as a team," said Crofton, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Pitcher. "I was hitting my spots, (catcher Austin Zavala) called a great game and I knew I could throw right down the middle and I was getting defensive plays. (Shortstop Micah Brown) played amazing out there and all-in-all we had a lot of energy coming through there.""That was a lot of fun," he added. "It was a good game to be a part of. In this tournament, we just came together as one. There's not one player on this team that I'm not good friends with. We're just a big family and we're playing together really well."Brown said Sunday's focus wasn't necessarily about strategies at the plate or on defense, rather it was on the team's mental approach to the game."We really wanted to focus on just staying loose and having fun," said Brown, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. "We kinda realized in the middle of the tournament that if we just have fun, we play a lot better than getting all stressed out. That was our focus."The Mustangs were a little overzealous in the early going against the Barbers on Sunday, running themselves out of scoring opportunities by twice getting thrown out trying to stretch singles into doubles and committing the first out at home plate in the fifth inning.Still, at least Medford was getting those opportunities. Crofton only went as high as five batters faced in two of his nine innings to keep the heavy-hitting Portland Barbers at bay."David was outstanding," said Mayben. "That's the best I've ever seen him pitch. The guy was sharp ... his fastball, his curveball, his changeup, everything was working today and he was throwing everything for strikes. I would never imagine a guy in a championship game to come out and just be nails like that, that was awesome."Crofton said he had faith in his teammates throughout that they would eventually break through and provide him some run support, and that moment finally came in the seventh inning under difficult circumstances.Brown was thrown out trying to stretch his one-out single to a double to cast doubt on the Mustangs finally solving the riddle put forth by Portland pitcher Ryan Kaser. But after a single by Josh Berman eluded the diving efforts of left fielder Brady Ching, Jared Evans turned on a pitch for a double that gave Medford some hope.That left it up to Eric Carlson, who was making his first appearance in three weeks due to a back injury. Carlson had already doubled off the wall in the third inning and took that confidence into his third at-bat. Given an opportunity to play the role of hero, the recent Ashland High graduate ripped a two-run single into center field to break the scoreless tie."All I was thinking was hit the ball hard somewhere and hopefully not get yelled at by the coaches for screwing up," Carlson said with a laugh. "That was the game-changer and gave the team a lot of energy. I'm so happy that I could bring us up to life like that."Carlson finished 3-for-4 in his return and paired with Brown to complete four big inning-ending groundouts — one on a diving stop by Brown that was finished with a sweeping snag by Carlson in the seventh inning."Eric was huge today," said Mayben. "That guy made some great plays at first base to shut them down and that big two-RBI knock was huge. For a guy like that not to see the plate for three weeks and still not be 100 percent and play like that, that was awesome."The momentum of that seventh inning carried over for the Mustangs, who saw Christian Gillis rip a double off the right field wall to open the eighth and eventually score with Taylor Raff after Zavala's sacrifice bunt was thrown away by relief pitcher Drew Martin-Cohn.Medford tacked on two more runs in the ninth on a bases-loaded RBI single by Gillis, who finished 3-for-5, and a heads up scoring effort by Jimmy Sporer after Portland got a fielder's choice at home but couldn't complete a double play attempt after the throw by catcher Mak Hutson got past first baseman Kevin Lave.Lave used his second single of the game to give Portland a chance in the bottom of the ninth and he scored without a throw on a single to center field by Tyler Parker before Brown shut things down with a pair of defensive efforts to clinch the victory."Micah's the guy that everybody looks at and once we finally got him out to shortstop a few weeks ago, everything has just come together," said Mayben. "Our defense has sharpened up, he's into his role in the lineup and is hitting better himself and he does a good job with our pitchers out there, too. When they're getting in trouble he'll go calm them down. Micah's our catalyst, he's our guy."Brown finished 2-for-4 while Berman was 2-for-3 with two runs. Lave was the only Portland player to get multiple hits off Crofton and the error-free Mustang defense.Medford 000 000 222 — 6 12 0Portland 000 000 001 — 1 6 1Crofton and Zavala; Kaser, Martin-Cohn (8) and Hutson. W — Crofton (2-3). L — Kaser. 2B — M: Carlson, Brown, Evans, Gillis.Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Medford Mustangs celebrate after winning the American Legion AAA State Tournament at Agnew-Lytle Field in Grants Pass, on Sunday, August 03, 2014.