‘Stangs slide by Humboldt
It isn’t often you can build a 6-0 lead without the virtue of a single hit, but that’s precisely what the Medford Mustangs accomplished Saturday in their opening game of a twin bill at North Medford High.
Medford capitalized on six walks, one hit batter and four wild pitches to cycle through the batting order in the bottom of the first inning to set the tone against the visiting Humboldt Eagles, ultimately using a fourth-inning barrage to enact the mercy rule in a 12-0, five-inning win in Game 1.
The hits didn’t really come in Game 2 again until the fourth inning but, as in the opener, they came in bunches to help the Mustangs (10-1) complete an American Legion AAA baseball sweep with a 9-2 victory.
“We need to do a better job of getting up there and expecting a pitch in the zone and being ready for it,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “It’s hard sometimes when you have a lot of balls, but we still need to do a better job of staying mentally ready.”
“I was a little frustrated when we did get a pitch to hit, we just weren’t on time with it,” he added. “Those first three innings were pretty frustrating, but they did a good job in that fourth inning and put the ball in play.”
Throwing strikes was no issue for opening-game starter Eli Westrick. The Ashland product was dialed in from his first pitch, striking out 10 with no walks in a two-hit shutout that moved his record to 3-0.
“I didn’t have the greatest start in the bullpen, but when we came out to the field, I just wanted to fill up the zone,” said Westrick. “When you haven’t seen a team like this, that’s really all you can do when you don’t know how well they’re going to swing it. I started throwing a lot of fastballs for strikes and then just kept doing that throughout the game.”
The lone hits allowed by Westrick were a leadoff single by Mateo Gutierrez, who was initially well in front of the pitch but held back enough to muscle the ball over shortstop Zac Ankeny. After two straight strikeouts, leadoff hitter Keenan Morris zipped a ball up the middle before Westrick again rose to the challenge with another strikeout.
“His curveball was really good and he mixed in his changeup there, too, and got some guys swinging over the top of that,” said Mayben of the lanky right-hander, “and then he knew when he could heat it up a little bit and go upstairs. He did a good job of going upstairs and getting guys swinging and missing on that. It was a good job for him all-around on the mound.”
Also notable was Westrick’s poise after having to endure long breaks between trips to the mound as his teammates batted against Humboldt.
“That’s just the sign of a guy that’s a veteran,” said Mayben. “He knows what he needs to do and when he needs to be ready. He’s level-headed and doesn’t get frustrated out there. He’s throwing in between innings if he needs to and he’s taking care of business.”
“What I love about Eli is you don’t have to say a word to him,” he added. “He’s in here preparing for the next inning and just goes out there and throws a lot of strikes. He just does a solid job on the mound, I look forward to him doing that all summer.”
For his part, Westrick said the breaks in play while he’s pitching are always nice because that equals run support, but Saturday did get to be a little long at times.
“I was probably throwing as much as I would’ve if I had gone a full (seven-inning) game,” said Westrick, “just because every inning was so long that I had to toss the ball in between to fill the time and stay warm.”
Another benefit when taking the mound for the Mustangs, according to Westrick, is the security he has in the defense behind him.
“The thing that I’ve noticed from this group that really stands out from other teams I’ve played on,” he said, “is that the defense is so solid with this group. I never have to worry about balls that are on the ground or never have to worry about balls that are in the air, we make every play.”
Mayben couldn’t agree more with early results this season.
“Probably the thing I’m enjoying the most right now is our defensive play,” he said. “Defensively we’ve been playing really solid baseball. We’re taking some pride in it and we’re taking some hits away, so I’m really liking that.”
After scoring four runs in the first inning, the Mustangs tacked two more on in a hitless third inning on four walks, a balk, a fielder’s choice and ensuing error.
Interestingly, it was a hard-hit liner by Josh Baptiste that resulted in a double play to end the third inning that seemed to kickstart Medford’s hitters.
In the Mustangs’ next at-bat, Tanner Douglas ripped a leadoff single over the center fielder’s head that typically may have gone for two bases had the outfield not been as softened by rain. After Ankeny drew a walk, Jace Miller cranked a two-run double to the fence in left-center and suddenly Medford was driving every pitch close to the plate.
Strong singles by Chase Costanti and Jeremiah Robbins kept the offense rolling, and Rowan Amann’s RBI single was followed by an RBI groundout by Cody Borraggine to make it 10-0. Baptiste was then hit by a pitch before Douglas could pad Medford’s mercy-rule cushion with a two-run single down the right-field line.
In Game 2, Tanner Douglas struck out five with three walks and four hits allowed in five scoreless innings to earn the victory.
Westrick gave Medford a spark when his fourth-inning double set in motion a string of nine straight Mustangs to reach base in a seven-run frame.
Borraggine finished 3-for-4 with one run and three RBIs and Amann was 2-for-2 with two runs and one RBI in Game 2.
Morris supplied a two-out, two-run single in the seventh to avoid another shutout for Humboldt. Curtis Edge had previously walked and moved to third on a double by Hunter Davis.
Johnson, Letter (1) and Rodgers; Westrick and Robbins. W — Westrick (3-0). L — Johnson. 2B — M: Miller.
Minton, Gutierrez (4) and Rodgers; Douglas, Newman (6) and Robbins. W — Douglas (2-0). L — Minton. 2B — H: Nichols, Davis; M: Borraggine 2, Westrick.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry