Time to shine
The pieces are there, the intangibles are there and now it’s time to live up to the expectations that those in the Medford Mustangs program have had since embarking on the 2015 campaign.
The Mustangs dominated last year’s American Legion AAA state tournament en route to their 12th title and, with nine holdovers, will likely be instilled as the favorites again entering this week’s tournament in Salem.
Even with a 34-11 record and Area 4 title under his team’s belt, Mustangs manager Nate Mayben was quick to caution on Monday that there are no guarantees when it comes to the postseason.
Medford opens the double-elimination tournament at 4 p.m. Wednesday against the Albany Mid-Valley Rockets at Chemeketa Community College.
“It’s a hard thing to do,” Mayben said of repeating as state champions. “I think that our guys know what they need to do and know what it takes to win a state championship, and I think they know they have the ballclub that can get it done. But we’ll see how we come out on Wednesday and play the game.”
“We didn’t end the season real sharp with Grants Pass and Klamath Falls,” he added, “and I hope we can overcome that hurdle and come out with energy and hopefully turn things around for this year. It’s definitely not the same momentum we had going in last year, but at the same time, the experience these guys have had should help us.”
Medford last won consecutive state titles in the 2007 and ‘08 seasons and won three straight from 1991-93. The Mustangs also won two in a row in 1982 and ‘83.
In Wednesday’s other openers, the Area 3 champion Dallas Demarini Dirtbags play the East County Northwest Star Academy Knights at 9 a.m.; the Area 2 champion Portland Barbers play the Corvallis Gerding Builders Marketmen at noon; and the host Salem Withnell Dodgers play the Eugene Challengers at 7 p.m.
“They’re all good teams and they’re there for a reason because they’re playing good baseball now,” said Mayben. “It is going to be a tough tournament.”
Creating some comfort for the coach is the fact that Medford boasts a seasoned crew. The Mustangs have a fourth-year player in Steen Fredrickson and third-year players in Micah Brown, Bryce Rogan, Eric Carlson, Colton Westfall, Jared Evans and Austin Zavala.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have been here for three and four years and they know what it takes,” said Mayben. “We’re a very mature team. Even in the games that we’re down, we stay level-headed and never get too emotional. At times you wish they showed a little bit more emotion, but it’s a good recipe for success for us.”
All have done their part to help Medford enter the state tournament with a team batting average of .344 and a team pitching ERA of 1.90 that’s the best single-season effort in program history.
“What I’ve just been amazed with is how well our pitching staff has done,” said Rogan. “I had high expectations but had no idea they’d be this dominant. It’s nice as a fielder and a hitter because you know you just have to get a few runs and they’ll take care of all the rest.”
Cody Coggins enters the state tournament with a program-best 0.80 ERA, which is well ahead of the record 0.95 ERA turned in by Scott Lewis in 1984. The Cascade Christian High graduate is 7-0 with only 23 hits allowed and 43 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched.
Phoenix’s Aaron Hutchinson is 7-0 with a 1.05 ERA, and North Medford’s Jordan Ragan (6-1, 1.56 ERA) and Westfall (3-2, 1.73 ERA) have joined with Cascade Christian’s Will Weaver (5-2, three saves, 1.79 ERA) and Ashland’s Fredrickson (4-3, 3.32 ERA) to give the Mustangs a formidable rotation.
“I feel like we have six guys we can throw on the mound at any time as starters and give us a chance to win,” said Mayben. “Our pitching staff has just been phenomenal.”
The pitching has sometimes had to overcome a defense has committed a program-high 82 errors in 45 games.
Besides quality pitching, the Mustangs have been able to put runs together in droves.
Brown, last year’s state tournament and Northwest Regional MVP, leads the way with a .428 batting average to go with 38 RBIs and 46 runs scored. Of Brown’s 62 hits, 20 have gone for extra bases, and he’s contributed as a pitcher with a 1-1 record, four saves and a 2.10 ERA.
Rogan enters the state tourney batting .407 with a team-best 43 RBIs to go with 25 runs scored, while Zavala (.352, 24 RBIs, 20 runs), Tate Cowden (.348, 24 RBIs, 47 runs), Evans (.336, 20 RBIs, 36 runs) and Carlson (.318, 24 RBIs) have helped power the attack.
Medford’s record against its tournament opponents has been good this season, with only host Salem Withnell holding an advantage after sweeping the Mustangs in a June 13 doubleheader. The Mustangs are 3-0 against Corvallis, 3-1 against Eugene and beat the Mid-Valley Rockets 3-2 on June 26.
“We don’t know a lot about some of the teams we’ll see,” said Mayben, “but at the same time what, we know is that they’re there and teams that are there deserve to be there. You don’t get this far by mistake, so we can’t take anyone lightly.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry