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Mustangs squeeze Eugene

For all the muscles built through steady weight lifting by Josh Berman, none were needed to make the biggest impact for the Medford Mustangs in their home finale at Harry & David Field Wednesday night.

With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning of a scoreless game against Eugene, Berman pulled off a suicide squeeze bunt to plate a hard-charging Berry Hunt with the game-winner for a 1-0 victory in American Legion Area 4 play.

Not known for his bunting prowess, the call to Berman definitely was against the grain.

“To be honest I was surprised, too,” Berman said of getting the sacrifice bunt sign. “I wasn’t even thinking about that when I was in the hole there getting ready to hit. I was thinking about coming up and putting a good swing on it but when I saw the call for a sacrifice I was ready for it. I don’t care how we win it, as long as we win it.”

Berman entered the game batting .350 with 24 RBIs, nine extra-base hits and a history of swinging away at every opportunity but Mustangs manager Nate Mayben didn’t hesitate in the moment.

“Josh has been hot but we had one out there and I just figured we’re going to go for it and if not, we’ve got (Nick) Sanderson up right behind him and have another shot there,” said Mayben. “It wasn’t like a do-or-die situation for us but I had a feeling with the bases loaded he was going to get a fastball first pitch so I figured let’s just go with it.”

“He doesn’t bunt too often and a lot of times he struggles with that part of the game,” added the manager, “but he was mentally ready to go so I have to tip my hat to him.”

When the pitch arrived for Berman and he put it down on the grass in front of Eugene pitcher Tanner Cantwell, there was no play to be made after the Challengers were caught off-guard.

“I think I caught myself by surprise, too,” admitted Berman. “I think I caught everyone by surprise. It was an easy pitch to bunt, right down the middle, but I’m sure I caught a few people by surprise that I got it down, for sure.”

Berman flexed a little more in Game 2 by going 3-for-4 with three RBIs to extend his hitting streak to 18 games, but Medford (23-14, 7-5 Area 4) couldn’t pull off the sweep as Eugene (19-9, 11-3) surged late and staved off a seventh-inning rally to earn a 7-6 win in a battle of league leaders.

“We did a great job of coming back but really that game was on us, I think we gave it away a little bit,” Berman said of a nightcap that saw Medford build a 4-1 lead through four innings. “It was no one individually, it was all of us, we just let it slip away a little bit. But, still, we did a great job of battling, we just came up one or two hits short or we had that game. It definitely sucks not getting a sweep but we play them again Saturday so hopefully we can get it then.”

Nick Sanderson went 4-for-4 with one RBI and Joe Johnson was 3-for-4 with one run and one RBI to help pace the Mustangs in Game 2. Jordan Ragan was 2-for-3 in Game 1.

The opening game featured a fantastic pitching duel between Medford’s Will Weaver and his Eugene counterpart Cantwell. Both pitchers were able to get out of trouble when applicable in Game 1, each forcing their foes to strand seven baserunners — five in scoring position — before Berman’s walk-off heroics.

Weaver allowed seven hits but didn’t walk a batter and was backed by an error-free defense that was paced by shortstop Hunt and second baseman Tate Cowden. Hunt provided a pair of stellar stops in the top of the seventh inning after the Challengers received a leadoff double by Heath Boyles, who was unable to advance.

“It was gutsy pitching on his part,” said Mayben of Weaver. “He was in a lot of situations that were big situations and he was able to get those pop-ups and groundballs. He just did a good job throwing strikes. No walks helps a lot and we played some great defense behind him.”

Berman said Weaver’s performance helped the Mustangs remain optimistic despite goose eggs continually being put up on the scoreboard.

“It all started with our pitching and Will did a tremendous job,” said the third baseman. “That’s the best I’ve ever seen him pitch. Everything he was throwing was good and he gave up like two hard hits. It just led us to believe that we’re going to win when you get a pitching performance like that.”

In the bottom of the seventh, that belief came to life as pinch-hitter Aaron Hutchinson drew a leadoff walk and Hunt followed with another walk to give the Mustangs some hope. Pinch-runner Jaylin Parnell was erased at third base after having to hold up on a bunt by Cowden that sailed just beyond Cantwell’s reach.

Christian Mahoney then drew a walk to load the bases — Cantwell’s sixth free pass against six strikeouts — to set the stage for Berman, who promptly obliged with the game-winner.

Similar heroics didn’t seem needed as Berman drove in runs in the first and third innings to help Medford get off to a 3-1 advantage but Eugene tallied three unearned runs in the fifth inning to tie the game at 4-all and followed with another three-run frame in the sixth to build a 7-4 cushion.

The Mustangs used another RBI single by Berman to close the gap to 7-5 in the sixth but left the bases loaded with only one out after reliever Matt Haney escaped trouble with a strikeout and groundout.

Medford’s final comeback bid showed promise in the seventh after Hutchinson supplied a pinch-hit double and pinch-runner Parnell scored on a single by James Turnbull to make it 7-6 with one out. Turnbull then stole second to put the tying run in scoring position but Haney gained back-to-back strikeouts to deny the Mustangs.

Medford stranded 11 baserunners — six in scoring position — in the nightcap.

“We had our chances,” said Mayben. “We had the bases loaded there in the sixth with one out and you’ve got to take advantage against a good ballclub like that. If you don’t, then you’re going to be just short, like we were tonight.”

FIRST GAME

Eugene;000;000;0;—;0;7;1

Medford;000;000;1;—;1;3;0

Cantwell and Isom; Weaver and Mahoney. W — Weaver (5-0). L — Cantwell. 2B — E: Lydon, Boyles. 3B — E: Cantwell.

SECOND GAME

Eugene;001;033;0;—;7;12;0

Medford;102;101;1;—;6;13;1

Townsend, Haney (5) and Bass; Hunt, Weaver (6), Buchanan (6) and Wolff. W — Haney. L — Hunt (2-2). 2B — M: Berman, Hutchinson.

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

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Medford pitcher Will Weaver delivers a throw against Eugene during Game 1 of their doubleheader at Harry & David Field on Wedneday. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON
Medford's Berry Hunt makes an out in during the opener.