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Mustangs settle for split with Eugene

It’s been a lonely stretch without baseball the past year for Justin Geyer, who was sidelined by Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and only got cleared for his return to play a week before the Medford Mustangs opened the summer season.

In his first chance to make a serious run with the Mustangs — Geyer had 32 at-bats before last year’s surgery — the 2017 North Medford High graduate has settled in quite nicely for the American Legion AAA program.

On Monday, it was Geyer who gave the Area 4 leaders a jolt with a three-run home run in the first inning and his teammates took over from there in a 14-hit attack that produced a 12-4 triumph over the visiting Eugene Challengers at Harry & David Field.

Medford (31-9, 11-3 Area 4) had its winning streak end at 11 games — and failed to at least clinch a berth in the state playoffs — when Eugene rallied from a 5-0 deficit with seven sixth-inning runs and won 9-5 in Game 2. It was the Mustangs’ first loss since July 5 against Grants Pass, also at home.

“I’ve been on a hot streak for a little bit and it’s been fun,” said Geyer, who entered Monday’s twin bill batting .364 with 29 RBIs. “I’ve been improving a lot with coach (Nate) Mayben and coach (Paul) White, they’ve been pushing me to get a lot better and I think I have been.”

Geyer’s blast over the left-field wall followed an RBI double by Jacob Melton that plated Joe Johnson, who had singled, and a walk to cleanup hitter Jack Thompson.

The Challengers (21-17, 7-7) had shifted their defensive alignment to protect against Geyer pulling the ball to the left side so he was thinking opposite field during his at-bat until a fateful pitch from starter Kevin Pierson.

“Then I saw that fastball come inside where I like it and I just swung and it ended up leaving the yard,” said Geyer.

That brought about one of the funnier moments of the night as the hard-charging Geyer ran into a logjam on the base paths as Melton and Thompson waited to make sure the blast cleared the fence.

“I think I almost ended up catching Jack and Melton at second base,” said Geyer with a laugh. “It’s just my approach. No matter what, you should be hard out of the box and that’s the way I’ve always played. I got it from (North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe) so I swing, I see where the ball’s at and I run. After that I adjust. When I saw the back of Jack’s jersey between second and first, I knew I had to put the brakes on.”

The pedal was to the metal for the rest of the night for the Mustangs, however, as they posted at least one hit in all but one inning to keep the pressure on Eugene in the opener. All but one Medford starter recorded a hit.

“Our whole team is full of hitters that are consistent and can put the ball around the yard,” said Geyer. “I think that’s what makes us a very dangerous team, because it’s not two or three people in the lineup with us, it’s one through nine.”

Melton finished 3-for-3 with two runs and one RBI and joined Wyatt Baptiste, who was 2-for-4 with three runs, in each tallying two doubles. Bennett Thompson, Medford’s No. 9 hitter, was 3-for-3 with two runs and one RBI, and leadoff hitter Joe Johnson was 2-for-5 with two runs and one RBI.

“We got good production, even from the bottom of our lineup,” said Mayben. “Wyatt had some really good at-bats, Bennett had some really good at-bats, so if we can continue to get that and everybody is on, this is a tough ballclub to beat.”

Geyer’s home run was the spark to ignite a five-run first inning, and Medford’s 25th of the summer.

“The long ball has been really helping us out lately,” added Mayben. “We had some good ones against Willamette Valley that got us back in the game or put us on top last week, too. It’s been nice to have but we can’t depend on it. It’s hard to hit a ball out of this ballpark so it’s nice to see it when it happens and it provides a big lift for us.”

Medford starter Ethan Whitney endured a rough start that included three uncharacteristic Medford errors inside the first two innings to earn his fourth win against two losses this summer. Whitney struck out four and allowed seven hits with three walks in six innings.

Ryan Sandoval nailed down the win in the seventh with three strikeouts and one hit allowed.

In Game 2, Medford again got off to a good start when Johnson walked and Brennen Watts followed with an RBI double in the first inning. The Mustangs’ lead grew to 3-0 in the fourth when Eugene had the wheels come off a little to allow Baptiste to score on a wild pitch and Jon-o Gassman to score on a throwing error.

Baptiste added a two-run double in the fifth inning to plate Watts and Melton, who had singled, to give starter Ricky Boortz a 5-0 lead.

Eugene, however, countered with a seven-run sixth inning that included seven hits against Boortz and reliever Jack Thompson. Kyle Lund’s two-out, three-run triple that eluded the diving effort of Baptiste in left field provided the go-ahead runs for the Challengers.

With the split, Medford’s lead over second-place Roseburg remained at three games with six to play, and four games over third-place Eugene, with Willamette Valley not far off the pace at 6-8 in Area 4.

With Roseburg (20-15, 8-6) already guaranteed a spot in the state tournament as the host team, the highest placing team in Area 4 gains an automatic bid to the state tourney. The Nos. 2-3 teams, still excluding Roseburg, advance to the Super Regionals and must win a best-of-three series to reach the tournament.

The Mustangs can take a big step toward securing a second straight outright title in a doubleheader at Eugene. Medford wraps up its regular season with four games against Roseburg, two on the road Saturday and two back at Harry & David Field Sunday.

FIRST GAME

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Medford510141x—12144

Pierson, Updegrave (5) and Crowson; Whitney, Sandoval (7) and B. Thompson. W — Whitney (4-2). L — Pierson. 2B — E: Updegrave; M: Melton 2, Baptiste 2. HR — M: Geyer (3).

SECOND GAME

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Medford1002200—562

Iboa, Lund (6) and Updegrave; Boortz, J. Thompson (6), Sandoval (7) and Geyer. W — Iboa. L — J. Thompson (3-1). S — Lund. 2B — E Wilkinson, Edwards; M: Watts, Johnson, Baptiste. 3B — E: Lund.

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneMedford Mustang Justin Geyer crushes the ball for a home run in the first inning against Eugene Monday at Harry & David Field.