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Mustangs relish opportunity to play in 2020

As far as summer baseball seasons are concerned, this past run for the Medford Mustangs was the most unconventional of them all.

It may have also been the most appreciated.

From players and coaches who doubted an ability to compete at all in 2020 to fans longing for a much-needed distraction amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Mustangs’ 50-game run was one to be treasured.

“I wasn’t sure if we were going to have baseball at all this year,” said catcher Bennett Thompson, “so for all the work that coach (Nate) Mayben and all the other coaches have put in just to give us a season, let alone the 50 games that we had, it’s a blessing for sure.”

“That was something I had to remind myself,” added the South Medford High senior-to-be, “was just don’t take anything for granted, any at-bat, any inning, anything. This summer was definitely one that I’m very thankful happened because it would’ve been a very long summer if there was no baseball.”

That sentiment echoed throughout the dugout last Sunday after Medford (33-17) was crowned champions of the inaugural West Coast Invitational Baseball Classic.

It may have not been a seventh straight American Legion state championship earned — that will have to wait until hopefully next year — but you could see the joy this season brought to players who either had their spring high school or collegiate seasons canceled due to the coronavirus.

“Missing out on the spring season was definitely a big bummer, especially going into your senior year,” said pitcher AJ Balsiger, who was a North Medford High senior this past school year. “It was just a lot of fun to get together with the guys and actually be able to play games this year with everything going on. It was fun being able to see all the work that we put in over the offseason be used during the summer instead of just going to waste.”

This summer season acted as a valuable springboard for those players who plan on continuing their baseball careers, whether in high school or at the next level in college, and the setup couldn’t have been more challenging. Rosters allowed for second-year college players to return to the Mustangs and their Area 4 American Legion brethren this summer, making the competition pretty stiff during the summer grind.

“Getting to see what I could do against guys that have already been playing two years in college was definitely fun for me,” said Balsiger, who led the Mustangs with 542/3 innings pitched and posted a 4-2 record with a 1.92 ERA.

As someone making his Mustangs debut, Balsiger said he relished the opportunity to play with guys he has typically competed against in high school, along with those he watched growing up.

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander is destined for Oregon Tech, where he will major in mechanical engineering. He was in discussions with the OIT baseball coaches about being able to continue his playing career there when the coronavirus shut everything down, and hopes what he was able to show this summer will help his cause moving forward.

The biggest scare to solidifying those chances, he said, came mid-summer, when teams in Grants Pass and Roseburg had to cancel their remaining games after players tested positive for coronavirus. Grants Pass later regrouped and put together another squad to finish out the season.

“It was definitely a little scary there midseason that maybe we were going to get shut down, too, since we played those teams,” said Balsiger, “but thankfully we were able to keep going. I don’t know if it was just the magic of coach Mayben or whatever that kept us going, but we were definitely paying attention to following all the local protocols and keeping distance between each other, just anything we could do to keep our season going.”

As a returning Mustang, Thompson said there definitely was a different vibe for this summer season, but still with the same team values that saw the program earn its 14th state title in 29 years (17th overall) in 2019.

“Coach Mayben and the Medford Mustangs even before him have continued to provide a winning culture,” said Thompson, a Class of 2021 Oregon commit. “Obviously this summer was a little different and more of the focus was on getting players reps and getting everyone playing time and just making everyone better baseball players.”

Thompson was one of the team’s top hitters all season, finishing with a .438 batting average to go with 33 runs and a team-high 43 RBIs. He had 10 doubles, four triples and two home runs, and struck out only five times to go with 22 walks.

For good measure, Thompson also posted a 5-2 record with one save on the mound, finishing with a 2.92 ERA in 261/3 innings.

Quinton Rumrey led the Mustangs with a .470 batting average and provided a dynamic double-play combination with shortstop Zac Ankeny to anchor the defense up the middle. Rumrey finished with 39 runs and 20 RBIs, while Ankeny hit .326 with 18 runs and 18 RBIs.

Ashland’s Eli Westrick and Evan McLennan also posted strong summer showings, with Westrick batting .373 with 21 runs and 19 RBIs and McLennan hitting .347 with 29 runs and 41 RBIs. Westrick also went 3-2 with a 4.63 ERA after pitching 451/3 innings with 44 strikeouts and 19 walks.

Eagle Point brothers Dylan and Darin Marsh also returned to put up good numbers, with Dylan Marsh leading the team with six home runs to go with 24 runs and 25 RBIs and Darin Marsh, a senior-to-be for the Eagles, batting .327 with 37 runs and 21 RBIs. Dylan Marsh also went 3-2 with a 5.20 ERA in 332/3 innings on the mound.

Jon-o Gassman (.286, 27 runs, 14 RBIs), Chase Costanti (.267, 19 runs, 21 RBIs) and Jack Thompson (.202, 23 runs, 20 RBIs) also played vital veteran roles for Medford.

Prior to joining the Medford Rogues, Kyle Lund batted .357 with 16 runs and 11 RBIs in his 14 games played.

Steven Ledendecker, who was the winning pitcher in the West Coast Invitational championship, finished with a 5-3 record and 5.39 ERA in 39 innings.

The Mustangs also got promising debuts from South Medford junior-to-be left-hander Tanner Douglas (3-0, 2.22 ERA, 342/3 innings), North Medford senior-to-be Cody Borraggine (1-2, 5.51 ERA, 262/3 innings) and St. Mary’s graduate Brady Eiler (3-0, 3.26 ERA, 191/3 innings).

Douglas, the youngest player on the roster and a late-season addition, also hit .360 with six runs and eight RBIs in 10 games.

“It was a great year for a lot of people,” said Bennett Thompson. “Obviously I think everyone became better baseball players but there were also a lot of bonds made this summer. To cap it off with a few victories in a row and to get a championship at the end, I think that kind of just leaves a good taste in your mouth heading out of the season.”

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

Medford Mustangs catcher Bennett Thompson and second baseman Quinton Rumrey congratulate pitcher Ethan Whitney at Harry & David Field.{ } PHOTO by LARRY STAUTH JR
Medford Mustangs players offer up a moment of levity prior to a game against the Eugene Challengers at Harry & David Field this summer.{ } PHOTO by LARRY STAUTH JR