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Mustangs co-host tourney to end season

It comes as no surprise that it’s August and the Medford Mustangs are gearing up for a tournament.

This summer, however, it isn’t an American Legion state, regional or World Series trip. Those options were wiped out long ago by the coronavirus.

Instead, the Mustangs will conclude their unique independent season by hosting, in conjunction with the Grants Pass River Dawgs, an eight-team tournament Thursday through Sunday.

The West Coast Invitational Baseball Classic will have two games each in Medford and Grants Pass over the first three days. On Sunday, there will be five games, including the semifinals and championship in Grants Pass.

The tournament will end the season for the Mustangs and River Dawgs.

Mustangs manager Nate Mayben and River Dawgs owner Jay Reese began brainstorming a few weeks ago about how best to cap the season.

Reese developed the River Dawgs — who are expected to evolve into a collegiate wood-bat program next summer — after the Grants Pass Nuggets Legion program folded the first week of July because two players tested positive for COVID-19.

The Golden State Collegiate Baseball League, which includes the Medford Rogues, has accepted Reese’s request to join the league next year, he said, but there are contingencies that must be met.

Roseburg’s Legion team, meanwhile, was to stage a tournament this weekend, but Dr. Stewart’s also ceased operations over virus concerns.

“We wanted to see how we could kind of end things on an exclamation point or something,” Mayben said of hooking up with Reese.

Teams joining the Mustangs in the Medford pool at U.S. Cellular Community Park are the Klamath Falls Falcons, En Fuego Baseball out of Bellevue, Washington, and Northwest Diamond Sports from Portland.

Medford opens at 5 p.m. Thursday against Klamath Falls, and En Fuego faces Northwest Diamond at 7:30 p.m.

Pool play continues Friday at Saturday with games at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

In Grants Pass, where the games will be played at the All Sports Park, the other teams are the Humboldt Eagles from Yreka, California, Ice Baseball from Portland and the Mudville Nine from Mercer, Island, Washington.

Ice and Humboldt meet at 5 p.m. Thursday, and Grants Pass faces Mudville, coached by 1975 Medford High graduate Kurt Boyd, at 7:30 p.m.

The Grants Pass pool games will be at 5 and 7:30 p.m. each night.

On Sunday at U.S. Cellular, the fourth-place teams from each pool play at 10 a.m., and the third-place teams play at 12:30 p.m.

The semifinals at the All Sports Park are at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., followed by the championship at 3 p.m.

Tickets per daily session at each park are $5 general admission and $3 for children under 12.

Mayben doesn’t know a lot about some of the visiting teams, but both Mudville and En Fuego are Legion-aged traveling teams with strong reputations.

Boyd, whose son Matt played for Oregon State and now is a starting pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, is bringing his team to Southern Oregon for the first time, said Reese.

“They are usually very good,” said Reese.

Mudville and En Fuego don’t have school enrollment and boundary restrictions when drawing players, said Reese.

“They get kids from all over If they get a kid who wants to play, it’s kind of open recruitment,” said Reese. “Those are premier teams and names that we decided to reach out to and partner with, and we’re just excited to have them.”

When the tournament began to take shape, Mayben and Reese accepted the first six teams to call. A number of other teams followed suit, but the organizers opted to keep the field manageable.

A similar, larger tournament could be in the offing next year, said Reese, with ties to the Mustangs’ annual Coach K Memorial.

But that’s for down the road. Mayben and Co. are happy to be putting a bow on a different but, in its own right, hugely successful season.

When the summer began, there were no guarantees the season would make it through to August.

“If you would have told me we’d end the year Aug. 8 or 9 with 20 kids on our roster and who hardly missed anything and we’d get 50 games in,” said Mayben, “I probably would have told you you were crazy.”

Medford is 29-14 and has six games left, with a doubleheader at the Springfield Timbers Wednesday preceding the tournament.

The Mustangs will call it a season after Sunday’s game.

A lot of players on the team are headed to college. A couple, in fact, will miss tournament games as they make their move.

“Kids are trying to make decisions right now,” said Mayben. “It’s just a good time, it’s run its course. We got our games in, and I think these kids got in what they needed to to get themselves ready for a fall (baseball) season, if they get one.”

He credited the players and their families for making the season successful. Mayben envisioned having a fraction of the team for road trips as the season wore on, but 20 players made a recent sojourn to Eugene.

“They’ve been committed, they want to be there,” said Mayben, “and I don’t know if it’s because they’ve got nothing else to do or whatever. I’ve just been shocked with their willingness and wanting to be out there on hot days and doubleheaders, six games in three days, all that stuff. They’ve been there all the way through; it’s been worth my time just in that sense.”

Medford’s team batting average is .299, and it’s averaging 7.4 runs per game.

Quinton Rumrey leads the regulars in batting with an average of .471, while Bennett Thompson is at .436.

Others with at least 90 plate appearances are Evan McLennan (.388), Eli Westrick (.373), Zac Ankeny (.309) and Darin Marsh (.304).

McLennan (38), Thompson (32) and Dylan Marsh (25) are the RBI leaders, while Rumrey (31), Darin Marsh (30) and Thompson (28) have scored the most runs.

Thompson has 48 hits, McLennan 38 and Rumrey 33.

Dylan Marsh’s six home runs lead the Mustangs, and Jack Thompson has four.

Among pitchers, Bennett Thompson and Steven Ledendecker each have four wins, and four players have three each.

AJ Balsiger is second in innings with 44s2/3 and has the top ERA of 1.72, followed by Bennett Thompson (1.81).

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

Medford Mustangs' Bennett Thompson.