Mustangs’ rally falls short
Medford gave itself a chance when all was said and done Saturday afternoon at the American Legion AAA Northwest Regional, and that’s all Mustangs manager Nate Mayben insisted he could ask for in Gillette, Wyoming.
The Mustangs scored three times in the top of the seventh inning and had the tying run on second base and go-ahead run on first when Idaho Falls finally got out of the jam and secured an 8-7 victory to eliminate Medford on Day 4 at Hladky Memorial Stadium.
“They battled,” said Mayben of his team. “I can’t be more proud of the fight that they had. They gave themselves a shot, but that’s a really good baseball team that we played and that’s just baseball right there. There’s nothing else that I would ask for from the guys, they gave us everything that they had.”
It was the second time this season that Medford (39-9) came up short against the Idaho Falls Bandits (35-9-1), who are the two-time defending national champions and will play Wyoming state champion Cheyenne (67-11) on Sunday for the regional title.
Earlier Saturday, the Cheyenne Sixers eliminated the Billings (Montan) Royals, 3-2.
“We were close, and for a young team that’s pretty good,” said Mayben. “We can definitely hang our hat on that and say that we did a good job this summer. We accomplished a lot and now we potentially have 14 out of our 15 guys able to come back next year and the potential of adding some pretty good guys from around the valley next year so I think our expectations are going to be right back where we are right now.”
Vying to keep hope alive for a potential sixth regional championship, the Mustangs entered their final at-bat down 8-4 but did not waver in their resolve.
Cameron Sewell opened the seventh with a single and advanced on a one-out single by Jace Miller. After a wild pitch moved each runner up 90 feet, Aiden Horsley ricocheted an RBI single off relief pitcher Eliot Jones to make it 8-5.
Jeremiah Robbins followed with a floater down the right field line that landed safely and allowed another run to score. Frankie Rutigliano then hit the ball on the nose but his liner was hauled down in left field to leave Medford down to its final out.
Undaunted, pinch-hitter Owen Thompson ripped a shot up the middle that went off the shortstop and trimmed the deficit to 8-7. Idaho Falls then turned to its fourth pitcher of the day in Jaxon Grimmett and Johnny King, who hit .357 for the tourney, got the count to 2-2 before Grimmett registered a game-ending strikeout.
“All the way down the lineup, they found a way to get on base and score a few runs in there,” said Mayben of the seventh-inning surge. “What else can I ask them to do, they put the ball in play hard.”
“Johnny battled there at the end but it didn’t happen for him,” he added, “but we wouldn’t have been in that position without him. He had a stellar summer for us and stepped up big when we had some injuries and put himself in a position to be able to play on a regular basis, and helped us to get where we were.”
Earlier in the game, Medford erased a 2-0 deficit with a four-run outburst in the second inning.
Horsley, who finished the tourney with a team-best .583 batting average, had the first of his two hits to set the table and then Robbins and Rutigliano drew walks to load the bases. Horsley then scored on a tag-avoiding headfirst slide at home plate following a sacrifice fly by Kaleb Long.
“Aiden had a good tournament,” said Mayben. “He found himself in a lot of two-strike counts, too, and just fought and fought and fouled off balls and then he’d poke a ball into right-center. Then the next at-bat he’d hit a hard line drive into left field. He had a really good approach all tournament.”
King’s all-out hustle on an ensuing bouncer to shortstop kept the inning moving when he dived for the first base bag and beat the throw to load the bases again. Cody Borraggine, who hit .545 in the tourney, nearly slipped a grounder down the first base line but a diving effort allowed Idaho Falls to get an out at first but the tying run was able to score on the play.
In the next at-bat, Sewell’s grounder was misplayed to allow two more runs to score and give Medford a 4-2 advantage.
The Bandits, however, were able to turn the tide and score four runs of their own in the third, highlighted by a pinch-hit two-run single by Ryan Horvath with two outs in the inning.
“That was a big hit for them, for sure,” said Mayben. “We almost got out of it pretty limited but they did what championship teams do and they came through with a big two-out, two-RBI knock and that really got them settled in. You could see their confidence grow, but our guys didn’t quit.”
Idaho Falls, which was 6-for-16 with runners in scoring position and 3-for-9 with two outs, tacked on single runs in the fourth and fifth innings to create just enough of a cushion for the eventual win.
The Mustangs finished with nine hits but were only 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-10 with two outs.
Sewell and King were each 2-for-4 with one run, while Horsley was 2-for-4 with two runs and one RBI to pace Medford, while Jones went 3-for-3 with three runs and one RBI and Nate Rose was 3-for-4 with one run and one RBI to lead the Bandits.
Idaho Falls Bandits204110x—8122
Sewell, Aldrich (5) and Robbins; Belnap, Whitney (5), E. Jones (6), Grimmett (7) and Carlson, Woods (6). W — Belnap. L — Sewell (3-3). 2B — IF: Rose 2. 3B — IF: E. Jones.
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