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Mustangs keep Coach K's legacy alive

To anyone who knew Sandee Kensinger, he was unforgettable.

After his sudden death on Aug. 14, 2017 at age 59, those involved with the Medford Mustangs’ program he helped guide to national prominence wanted to make sure the affable “Coach K” would most certainly not be forgotten in any sense.

Therein lies the backdrop to this week’s second annual Coach K Memorial Tournament, which runs Thursday-Sunday at Harry & David Field, with the Mustangs serving as tournament host. The six-team event will feature two three-team pools, with pool play Thursday-Saturday and seeding games played Sunday.

“Sandee was important to this program he was important to a lot of people,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben, in his ninth season at the helm after taking over for Kensinger in 2011. “Being a teacher at Hedrick (Middle School) for so many years and coaching this program and coaching at North (Medford) and doing some things out at Ashland, the guy put in a lot of work and he affected a lot of lives.”

“We just want to keep the memory of him going and what he did for our community and the kids in our community,” added Mayben, “and just pay respect to the type of coach he was with some good baseball, because that’s what he loved.”

Medford’s pool includes the Richland Baseball Club from Washington and the Danville Hoots from California. Both teams carry a proud tradition, with the Hoots finishing as national runner-up at last year’s Connie Mack World Series.

The other pool includes the Australia Perth Heat for some international flair, along with the Corvallis Marketmen and Klamath Falls Falcons, who were each part of last year’s inaugural event.

“Our goal is to bring in the best teams we can and I think we’ve done that, and we’ll continue to try and expand on that every year,” said Mayben. “My hope is that people will want to come out and get to see some different teams and enjoy some really good baseball.”

Single-day passes cost $5, with a $10 family rate. Single tournament passes are $15, with a family tournament pass at $30.

Action begins with a 3 p.m. Thursday clash between Corvallis and Klamath Falls, while Medford plays host to Danville at 7 p.m. There will be noon, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. games Friday, with the Mustangs in the late game against Richland. Saturday’s games are 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., when Medford and Corvallis will square off.

Sunday’s seeding games will depend on the week’s outcomes, with 10 a.m. games at Harry & David Field and U.S. Cellular Community Park (the lone off-site contest) and a 1 p.m. championship game.

Kensinger retired just three games shy of managing his 1,000th game for the Mustangs prior to the 2011 season. His career record was 758-239, for a winning percentage of .760 over 19 seasons. He stepped down for two seasons, 2001-02, for personal reasons but served as an assistant to Brent Watts.

Under Kensinger, the Mustangs made it to the American Legion World Series three times (1992, 1997 and 2009), placing as high as second in ’97 and ’09. They also went in 2002. The Mustangs captured seven of the team’s 16 state championships with Kensinger at the helm.

“There is nobody else like him, there’s no doubt,” said Mayben of Kensinger. “The way he coached was different. He had a different mentality and a way of going about business but it worked and he always seemed to get the best out of everyone who played for him.”

Mayben was one of those players, and cherishes the times he spent during his playing days with the Mustangs under Coach K.

“He built confidence in his own way,” said Mayben. “Good coaches coach the way they’re made up and he didn’t try to be somebody he wasn’t. He didn’t try to be the loud, rough, tough guy, and he wasn’t the soft, laid-back guy. He was just Sandee. There’s nobody else like him.”

“He provided energy in his way and provided confidence in his way and guys just loved to play for him,” he added. “I don’t think there’s ever been one guy that’s come through here that didn’t enjoy his time being around Sandee.”

Medford, which has won the past five state titles, will be aiming to use its tournament experience as a springboard toward a more successful second half of its season. The Mustangs entered Wednesday night’s game against the Australia Perth Heat with a 7-13 overall record and 2-6 mark in Area 4 play. Eight of those losses, however, have come by two runs or less.

“We’re trying to grind through some things,” said Mayben. “We’re young and we’ve got a lot of new guys that are trying to figure out the process, but they’re doing a good job. We’ve been in a lot of close games that we’ve had plenty of opportunities. Hopefully here heading into July we’ll be able to win some of those games.”

North Medford products Ryan Sandoval (.469, 14 runs, nine RBIs) and Taven Passey (.373, 10 runs, 13 RBIs) have led the charge offensively for the Mustangs, along with South Medford’s Zac Ankeny (.365) and North’s Brady Buchanan (.321, eight runs, 10 RBIs). Eagle Point’s Dylan Marsh leads the team in runs scored (15), while South Medford’s Bennett Thompson is second on the squad with 11 RBIs for a team that’s batting .305 overall.

On the mound, Thompson (1-2, 2.30 ERA), Sandoval (1-3, 3.20 ERA), Eagle Point’s Skyler Gaudern (1-2, 3.61 ERA) and South Medford’s Blake Shields (1-2, 4.07 ERA) and Rickey Boortz (1-1, 2.05 ERA) have commanded the most innings thus far.

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

The Medford Mustangs are set to host the Coach K Memorial Tournament this week.