Thompson's gem lifts Mustangs in opener
One doesn’t have to be a mathematician to construct pitching strategies for the American Legion AAA Northwest Regional baseball tournament.
But it wouldn’t hurt.
Pitch counts play a big role in how teams operate in a five-day, double-elimination tournament, so it’s a bonus when your ace can do what the Medford Mustangs’ Bennett Thompson did today in a 4-0, opening-round victory over Juneau, Alaska, at Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho.
Sure, the whitewashing was nice.
More importantly, Thompson was the epitome of efficiency, averaging slightly more than 10 pitches an inning for his 5 2/3 frames of work and setting himself up for availability later in the eight-team affair.
Medford (34-23) advanced to play Idaho Falls, Idaho, a 10-0 winner over Casper, Wyo., at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Alaska (28-6) plays Wyoming at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
By throwing only 58 pitches — he allowed just one hit, a sixth-inning single — Thompson is able to come back after three days rest, should Medford need him.
“He did a good job of getting outs,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben, “and we did a good job of playing defense behind him. We made some good plays. That’s what we needed from him.”
Pitchers are held to strict counts.
Those who throw 30 or fewer in a game can come back the next day, as was the case with Skyler Gaudern, who relieved Thompson. Gaudern got the final out of the sixth with two pitches, then threw 11 more in the seventh to finish off the one-hitter. He will start Thursday.
Players who throw 31 to 45 pitches need one day of rest, 46 to 60 need two days and 61 to 80 need three. More than 80 requires four days rest and makes them unavailable for the remainder of the tournament, barring postponements that lengthen the schedule.
Mayben was under the impression Thompson threw 60 pitches, but the official scorekeeper had the South Medford junior-to-be for the 58.
“I don’t think you could get more efficient than he was,” said Mayben. “He got ahead of hitters early by just challenging them with his fastball. He was able to locate that thing pretty well. He threw his curveball here and there but was really efficient.
“Our plan was to keep him at 80 no matter what. By keeping him at (58), that might pay off for us in a couple days.”
Mayben understands the value of the rule: It protects young arms.
“It’s a good rule,” he said. “It’s there for the pitchers’ safety.”
“It’s stressful, man,” he said, of juggling the numbers in the heat of battle. “You always have a plan going in, but when you’re in the moment, you don’t want to make a stupid decision and lose a guy, or bring someone in when you’re trying to save them. Things go sideways on you.”
On this day, the only thing sideways was the umpire’s extended arm as he called outs.
Thompson struck out four and walked one against an Alaska squad that entered the game hitting .317.
In the sixth inning, he allowed a leadoff single to left field by Brock McCormick. McCormick was caught trying to steal second base moments later by catcher Taven Passey on a throw to shortstop Zac Ankeny.
The only other baserunner the Midnight Suns had against Thompson was Donavin McCurley, who walked in the first and was promptly picked off by Thompson.
Medford scored a run in the third off Alaska starter Gabe Storie, then was blanked until the sixth, when it scored twice.
The run in the third was courtesy of Chase Costanti’s leadoff double to center. Darin Marsh put down a sacrifice bunt that Alaska third baseman Christian Ludeman threw wildly to first, allowing Costanti to score and Marsh to reach second.
However, what appeared to be a big inning in the making was snuffed out. Evan McLennan reached on an error and Dylan Marsh was hit by a pitch, loading the bases with one out. But a strikeout and a popup kept the score 1-0.
The Mustangs had runners aboard each inning, and in scoring position in the first and fourth, but had difficulty moving them around.
“We just didn’t do a very good job of getting the ball on the ground,” said Mayben. “We popped up a lot of balls when we had runners in scoring position. We hadn’t played in a week, and I figured we’d probably be a little behind at the plate, timing-wise and all that. But the guys did a good job of grinding it out. Obviously, a 4-0 win, we’ll take that any day.”
In the sixth, Brady Buchanan walked and Bennett Smith singled to start the inning. Each moved into scoring position on a wild pitch.
After a popout, Darin Marsh pushed a hard bunt toward first base and past the pitcher, leaving no play on him for a single and scoring Buchanan.
Thompson’s sacrifice fly scored Smith.
In the seventh, Dylan Marsh led off with his eighth home run of the season for the final count. He has all but one of the Mustangs’ homers this summer.
Darin Marsh was the lone Medford player with multiple hits, going 2-for-2 in its seven-hit attack.
Mayben expects a challenge in the second round.
“We’ll have to be at our best to give ourselves a chance,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll do that. The guys had great energy today and they’re excited.”
Thompson, Gaudern (6) and Passey; Storie, Rawson and McCormick. W — Thompson (7-3). L — Storie. 2B — M: Costanti. HR — M: Dy. Marsh.