Mustangs stumble at regional
Medford put itself in a precarious position Thursday night and with victory still in sight, everything unraveled late against the Billings Royals on Day 2 of the American Legion AAA Northwest Regional at Hladky Memorial Stadium in Gillette, Wyoming.
Living dangerously for most of the winners bracket affair, the Mustangs saw their 3-2 lead evaporate in the sixth inning as the Montana state champions scored three runs to rally for a 5-3 victory.
The loss snapped an 11-game winning streak for the Oregon state champions and sent Medford (38-8) to the losers bracket where it will face Eagle River of Alaska at 3 p.m. Friday in an elimination game. Eagle River was a 3-2 winner over Colorado state champion Fort Collins earlier Thursday.
“You’ve got to hand it to Billings for doing what they did as far as taking advantage,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “We did some things that we haven’t done all year on the basepaths and we gave up too many free bases, and that’s what happens.”
Medford’s pitchers walked five and didn’t record a single strikeout, while Billings managed more hits than the Mustangs, 9-7, and was able to get through seven innings in only 94 pitches between starter Reagan Walker and reliever Hunter Eliason.
“It just wasn’t a very good game on our part all the way around,” said Mayben. “Our approaches at the plate weren’t that great, we popped a lot of balls up, but Billings made us do that so you’ve gotta hand it to them.”
The Mustangs were able to get to Walker in the top of the first inning behind an RBI single by Jace Miller, who finished 2-for-4 with one run and two RBIs.
The Royals answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning, but the damage was limited thanks to a nice relay from left fielder Aiden Horsley to shortstop Frankie Rutigliano and finally to catcher Jeremiah Robbins, who made a quick swiping tag at the plate to end the inning.
The second inning also included a nice charging pick and throw from the third baseman Miller to a stretching Tanner Douglas at first base for a final out to strand two runners.
“We got out of a bunch of situations that we put ourselves in where they didn’t score runs or only got one run,” said Mayben, “but they sure had some good opportunities to score.”
A leadoff single by Borraggine and double by Cameron Sewell provided a promising start to the fifth inning for the Mustangs, but that was soon negated when Douglas grounded out to first base, freezing Borraggine at third, and Sewell was tagged out for a double play after straying too far from second base.
Miller, however, made sure his team wouldn’t come up completely empty and followed with a clutch RBI double to give Medford a 2-1 lead. After Horsley was hit by a pitch, Robbins provided another key effort with an RBI single to center field to make it 3-1.
Billings loaded the bases in the fifth and Medford was fortunate to get out of the frame with only one run allowed, but the Mustangs weren’t as fortunate in the sixth.
Jaiden Turner, the No. 8 hitter in the Royals’ lineup, opened the sixth with a double off reliever Beau Aldrich. Billings’ hopes of advancing Turner to third on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Carter Venable looked to be negated when the ball went right back to Aldrich. The pitcher spun quickly toward third base and likely would have gotten the lead runner out had his throw not sail high of Miller — allowing Turner to score the tying run and Venable to instantly move into scoring position at second base.
“Obviously that would’ve changed some momentum,” said Mayben of the lone error of the night for Medford.
Douglas came on in relief to try and minimize the damage, and second baseman Johnny King made a nice play by throwing out the lead runner at home, but Billings was able to eventually load the bases and used a sacrifice fly and double to center field to build a 5-3 cushion.
Julius Bolstad recorded the final out of the frame after Douglas was removed to keep him available to pitch Friday.
Facing a last-ditch effort in the seventh inning against Eliason, Medford managed two quick groundouts and a strikeout to end the game.
With it being a double-elimination tournament, the Mustangs still maintain hopes of a potential sixth region crown in program history — and that was the thought Mayben left his team with late Thursday night.
“We’ve just got to win four games in a row here,” he said. “We’ve got to start a new streak and fight every game and every inning.”
Thompson, Aldrich (3), Douglas (6), Bolstad (6) and Robbins; Walker, Eliason (7) and Keith. W — Walker. L — Douglas. 2B — M: Sewell, Miller; B: West 2, Turner.
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