'Stangs continue slide
Growing pains was an expectation this summer for the Medford Mustangs.
Plain ol’ pains, however, weren’t supposed to be a factor.
The Mustangs lost their starting right fielder in a collision with the fence in the third inning of Tuesday’s opening game of an American Legion AAA Area 4 doubleheader with the Eugene Challengers, then they lost their composure as the game gradually got away for a 10-0, five-inning setback.
“It gets away from you in a hurry if you’re not ready to go, and we were not mentally ready to go at all,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “We need to be a lot better than that, just mentally. These guys are capable but they just don’t have the fight in them right now and they need to find it.”
Eugene (11-7, 4-2 Area 4) went on to complete a rare road sweep of the Mustangs with a 5-3 triumph in Game 2, dropping Medford to a 3-11 record in its past 14 games.
The Mustangs, who returned only six players from a squad that won its fifth straight state title last year, are 7-13 and 2-6 Area 4 entering Wednesday’s nonleague game against Australia Perth Baseball at Harry & David Field.
“I have faith in this team,” said Dylan Marsh, Medford’s lone collegiate returner, of a midseason turnaround. “We have the talent, we have the coaching. We just have to put it all together.”
It was Marsh’s younger brother Darin who was involved in the most dramatic play in the opener.
After a two-out hit batter extended the scoreless opener in the top of the third inning, Eugene’s Cole Wilkinson put a charge into a Blake Shields offering that sent right fielder Darin Marsh racing toward the fence in the right-center gap. Darin Marsh sprinted to the ball and appeared to have it in his glove just as he collided face-first into the fence, causing him to drop the ball and eventually exit the game as Wilkinson wound up with an RBI triple.
After that play, everything just seemed to unravel for the Mustangs as Eugene capitalized on three hit batters, three hits and one unfortunate play that resulted in two errors to break the game open with a six-run outburst.
To his obvious displeasure, Darin Marsh was removed by Mustangs general manager Paul White after it was clear the Eagle Point High player had seen a tooth shift back in his mouth on the crash.
“He was more pissed off about not making the catch than he was about his tooth,” said Dylan Marsh of his brother. “He wanted to be out there playing, and that’s what we need on this team, really. Guys like that who are more concerned about playing than a little toothache.”
Two-run singles by Jonathan Prescott and Prestin White, between an error on a grounder to third base that was initially bobbled and then thrown wide of first base, put Eugene in the driver’s seat after Wilkinson’s big blast.
Helping create some of that surge was a seeming loss of control of his offspeed pitches by Shields, who was dialed in early and sat the first eight Challengers down in order before losing his grip. All three of his hit batters came on pitches that slipped away from the South Medford High junior-to-be, and left him having to rely solely on a fastball that a veteran Eugene squad was more than ready to attack.
“The first two innings were phenomenal, you can’t get much better than that,” said Mayben of Shields. “But you can’t be a one-pitch guy, you can’t be a guy that’s just going to throw fastballs over the plate against any of the teams that we play against. Once that stopped working for him, he was in trouble.”
Things didn’t get any better after that for Medford, which saw Eugene’s Kellar Edwards slap a two-run single in the fourth inning while a misplay on a fly ball toward right field in the fifth resulted in the Challengers’ remaining runs.
Medford’s lone scoring threat came in the fourth inning after consecutive singles by Bennett Thompson, Ryan Sandoval and Evan McLennan set the stage for a potential comeback.
Unfortunately, the Mustangs’ season-long issues with runners in scoring position reared its ugly head again.
Wilkinson settled down to strike out Taven Passey and then induce a first-pitch pop-up by Zac Ankeny. After that, Medford got a little unlucky as Brady Buchanan’s hot shot between first and second base glanced off the pants leg of Mustangs pinch-runner Bennett Smith for interference and an inning-ending out.
“That’s been our M.O. it seems like,” said Mayben. “We find a way to get guys on base and then i don’t know if we put too much pressure on ourselves or what it is just because we’ve had so many situations like that where we’ve come away with nothing this year. I don’t know if guys are pressing too much or afraid to fail, but in this game you can’t be afraid to fail. You’ve got to get up there ready to compete and I feel like we’re afraid of those situations just because we know how big they are and we’re just not coming through.”
“It comes down to heart,” added the ninth-year coach. “It’s a little self-pride in what you’re doing, wanting to get the job done and mental focus. It comes down to the individual at that point, and it comes down to pride.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dylan Marsh, who couldn’t quite put a finger on Medford’s issues beyond the fact that the team just needs a spark from one of its leaders right now.
“We need to get big hits in big situations,” he said. “It seems like all of our hits are coming when there’s nobody on and we’re not getting the hits with runners in scoring position. I feel like we have the tools, it’s just timely hitting is what we need to find a way to do.”
Medford’s general youth with 10 newcomers may have been a factor early on, but Marsh said the team can’t continue to use that as a crutch moving forward.
“We’ve been playing baseball since we were 4 and if you look at it we’re all veterans, just not on this team,” he said. “I feel like there just needs to be somebody that connects a spark for us. We’ve got guys on slumps but we’re going to break out and we’re going to freaking score a lot of runs coming up.”
The Mustangs were able to do a better job of that in Game 2, with Bennett Thompson doing enough on the mound to keep his team in the contest.
Eugene built a 3-0 lead through four innings but Medford struck back with an RBI single by Buchanan to score Dylan Marsh to cut into the deficit in the fifth.
In the sixth, the Mustangs came up clutch with a leadoff single by Josh Baptist and ensuing RBI double down the right-field line by Thompson. After a deep flyball by Ryan Sandoval advanced Thompson to third, Smith came through with an RBI groundout to tie the game at 3-all.
Eugene, however, rallied with two outs in the top of the seventh with consecutive singles by Edwards, Prescott and Peyton Bracy, the latter driving in two go-ahead runs.
Medford’s last gasp at a rally started with a single by Dylan Marsh and continued with a two-out single by Steven Ledendecker, but starter Beau Burnett closed the door with his lone strikeout of the game.
Thompson, who struck out three, and Buchanan each went a combined 3-for-5 with one RBI in the twin bill.
Wilkinson and Jones; Shields, Ledendecker (4), Dy. Marsh (5) and Passey. W — Wilkinson. L — Shields (1-2). 3B — E: Wilkinson.
Burnett and Woodcook; Thompson and Passey. W — Burnett. L — Thompson (1-2). 2B — E: Bracy; M: Thompson.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry