South storms to key win over North
North Medford and South Medford each entered Tuesday night’s showdown with more than a crosstown rivalry on their minds.
Sure, a win over the other would go far in the psyche of boys who have grown up playing on opposing teams — and in some cases the same teams — over their years on the baseball diamond.
More importantly, however, is how much each team desperately needed a positive outcome.
The Black Tornado had been struggling to find a rhythm and play a complete baseball game, while the fifth-ranked Panthers suddenly found themselves scuffling amid a three-game losing streak in Southwest Conference play.
Only one of those factors would be changed by night’s end in a contest that went late into the night at Lithia & Driveway Fields after being moved from play at Harry & David Field due to recent rainy conditions.
South Medford (10-3, 2-3 SWC) surged out of the gate with a five-run first inning and used a complete-game effort by senior pitcher Carson Joe to score a 6-2 victory in the first of three matchups this season with North Medford (7-9, 2-4).
“I challenged our guys to come out with more passion and more energy,” said South Medford coach Josh Moody of the buildup to Tuesday’s game. “That’s always easy to do in rivalry-type games but I just told them this team’s chemistry just needs a little more passion for each other and playing for their teammates and they took that to heart. They came out and not necessarily won that game in the first inning, but they came out and did make a statement early.”
On the flip side was North Medford which, try as it might, has seemed snake-bitten most of the season.
“It seems like every game we have one of those innings and we just can’t put it all together,” said North Medford coach Kerry Curtis. “You get a couple hits and a couple of errors and we’re playing catch-up the whole game.”
“It’s a funny game and sometimes to be successful you need some breaks,” added the coach, “and it just seems like we’re struggling to find those breaks right now. It’s not anybody’s fault, the work and the effort is there, we’re just struggling.”
Panthers junior Cameron Sewell ripped a triple to right-center on the first pitch of his at-bat against Aiden Horsley to put the leadoff batter in scoring position.
“That really set the tone for us,” Moody said of Sewell’s liner.
Senior Jace Miller responded four pitches later with an RBI double that might have resulted in an out but was lost in the sinking sun by shortstop Frankie Rutigliano as he was forced to shield his eyes on the play.
Tanner Douglas then reached on a throwing error, and Eli Havey smacked an RBI single up the middle to make it 2-0. After a balk advanced both runners, Joe fisted a slow roller toward third baseman Colton Morgan that resulted in a two-run error when his charging throw was off the mark toward first baseman Kellen Willer.
Kaleb Long then drew a walk and, with one out, Jake Mason’s RBI groundout made it 5-0.
“You can come out and knock out three quick hits, that puts the pressure on their defense and on their pitcher and good things happen,” said Moody of his team’s aggressive start.
Joe didn’t let that effort go for naught, limiting the Tornado to five hits in seven innings with three walks and seven strikeouts.
“That was by far the most efficient he’s been all season,” said Moody of the right-hander. “He was just pitching to his defense and trusting them to do the work.”
North Medford was finally able to break its scoring drought in the third inning when Horsley drew a walk and scored on a triple by Rutigliano.
South Medford got that run back in the sixth after a hit batter, a walk and a single by Miller loaded the bases for Douglas, who brought home his team’s final run by drawing another walk.
Trey Newmann gave rise to a potential comeback for North in the seventh with a leadoff double. He moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on another to make it 6-2, but that was as close as the Tornado would get.
“Credit to South, they came out swinging the bats and I thought that Carson threw a nice game today,” said Curtis. “I told the kids after the game that, really, we take that first inning away and it’s a 2-1 ballgame. We’re certainly proud of the way the kids played and the way they battled. They continued to compete throughout the game, we just had that one inning again that changes the whole complexion of the game.”
Sewell and Miller each finished 2-for-4 for South, while Rutigliano went 2-for-3 for North.
Horsley, King (5) and Robbins; Joe and Havey. W — Joe (4-2). L — Horsley. 2B — NM: Newmann; SM: Miller. 3B — NM: Rutigliano; SM: Sewell.
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