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Grants Pass uses momentum shift to top South Medford

South Medford found itself in fine position to claim Wednesday’s Southwest Conference baseball opener with a 6-3 lead through three innings, then everything changed at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

In the matter of one half-inning of baseball, the visiting Grants Pass Cavemen gained all the momentum — and offense — it would need to send a shock through the Panthers’ dugout.

Grants Pass scored 13 runs on nine hits with two errors in the fourth inning to completely turn fortunes around en route to a stunning 16-7 victory.

“I thought we had them in a headlock there for a second and you want to talk about a quick reversal,” said South Medford head coach Ray Smith. “They put it right back on us and we didn’t have an answer.”

“It was pretty disappointing,” added Smith. “It was one of the craziest innings I think I’ve ever been involved in to be honest with you. We tried to put some plugs in it but we just didn’t make the plays. I think we lost that game in one inning, without a doubt.”

Grants Pass head coach Brian Diatte certainly saw it that way, albeit in a more positive light after his team had started the season 0-2 and been outscored by a combined 21-6 by Eagle Point and Crater.

“It was a fourth inning to remember, that’s for sure,” said Diatte. “You started to feel the guys needed to have that kind of inning to give themselves a chance, but to have an inning like that where it just kept going and going for us? That gave them a ton of confidence.”

Grants Pass (1-2, 1-0 SWC) sent 10 batters to the plate before recording an out in the fourth inning, and that was on a sacrifice bunt to move runners over to second and third base. Spencer Padgett highlighted the frame with a two-run double and Tyler Rund had a two-run single.

“It was just one of those innings where it seemed like everything we hit found some green,” said Diatte.

The Cavemen expected all of it to matter after South Medford had started the game so hot, but the hard-luck Panthers (1-2, 0-1) were able to recover only one run in the fifth inning on a solo home run by Ethan Whitney to come up short.

“We have to get our kids to compete at a consistent, competitive level for seven innings and we didn’t do that today,” said Smith. “And until you can do that and compete pitch after pitch, play after play you’re going to have a difficult time competing throughout the game. We’ve got some good returning kids that have that experience but it’s time to get after it and we didn’t do that.”

South Medford was able to load the bases in the bottom of the fourth but came up empty on a line-drive third out to center field.

“South is very physical at the plate and very offensive,” said Diatte, “and I think we were lucky in a lot of spots because they hit balls on the nose a few times but just right at people.”

The Panthers used a five-run second inning to seemingly take control with a 5-1 edge after Robby Carle doubled and, after Cody Owens was hit by a pitch and each advanced on a wild pitch, Daniel Shenk supplied a blooper down the right field line for the first run. Jacob Melton followed with an RBI single and Shenk scored when the throw to first got away, and Clint Campbell later singled and eventually scored on a wild pitch.

Melton and Whitney were each 2-for-4 with one run and one RBI, Carle went 2-for-3 with two runs and Jaalen Owens was 2-for-4 for the Panthers.

For Grants Pass, Vince Zavolta was 3-for-5 with three runs and two RBIs, Rund 2-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs, Padgett 2-for-4 with one run and three RBIs and Nate Morgan 2-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs. Cade King also went 2-for-4 with one run and one RBI and Brody Shelley was 2-for-3 with one run.

Grants Pass;102;(13)00;0;—;16;15;1

South Medford;051;010;0;—;7;11;3

Zozaya, Zavolta (3), Callabro (6) and Padgett; Whitney, Shenk (4), Charlton (4) and Thompson. W — Zavolta (1-0). L — Whitney (0-2). 2B — GP: Rund, Padgett; SM: Whitney, Carle. HR — SM: Whitney (1).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

South Medford senior Ethan Whitney delivers a pitch during the second inning against Grants Pass during Southwest Conference action on Wednesday. [ANDY ATKINSON/FOR THE MAIL TRIBUNE]
South Medford junior infielder Clint Campbell turns a double play as Grants Pass' Vincent Zavolta slides during the third inning of the Southwest Conference contest on Wednesday at Harry & David Field. The Cavemen won, 16-7. [ANDY ATKINSON/FOR THE MAIL TRIBUNE]