Whatever hitting woes the Medford Mustangs have gone through this American Legion baseball season, it certainly hasn't affected first baseman Billy Hansen.
The Ashland High product was at it again Wednesday in the opening game of the Jim Chubb Memorial Tournament, getting a hit in his first four at-bats to go with three runs and three RBIs as he sparked Medford to a 15-8 victory over visiting Klamath Falls.
"I'm just trying to stay balanced, coach (Nate) Mayben's been working with me on that," Hansen said of his solid start to the summer. "The biggest thing is staying balanced, especially when you get up to better pitching, and it's been working out for me so far."
Hansen entered the game with a Mustang-best .417 batting average and 16 RBIs and kept pace with every swing of the bat. His two-run double started a four-run first inning for Medford (11-8) and he finished 4-for-6 despite hitting the ball on the nose in his final two at-bats.
"Both Billy and Ethan Schlecht right there in the middle of our lineup as our No. 3-4 hitters, they're kind of the lifeblood of our lineup right now," said Mayben, in his second year as Mustangs manager. "Obviously Billy's doing a really good job, he's squaring a lot of balls up and his swing's nice and sound right now. Without him we probably wouldn't have 11 wins."
Schlecht stands second on the team with a .380 batting average and scored twice to go with one RBI against the Falcons, who hurt their own cause with seven errors.
South Medford High product Taren Bradd had a big night in the seventh spot, going 2-for-4 with four RBIs and one run scored in a game Medford had in hand from the early going. The Mustangs turned a 6-3 lead through two innings into a 12-3 advantage by the fourth inning.
"This is the first time in a while we've come out and were hot from the start and it was nice to see," said Mayben. "Hopefully our bats come around, they've been real slow lately. Hopefully we can find something there today and kinda feed off that here in the future and get some things rolling."
Tournament action continues today with three games at Harry & David Field, beginning at noon, and the Mustangs return to the field at 7 p.m. Friday against the Three Rivers Sandblasters. The tourney runs through Sunday and is named after Jim Chubb, a longtime local umpire who collapsed and died of a heart attack while working a game in 2009. He was 58.
Medford entered the eight-team event hitting only .270 as a team but Hansen said such struggles are more circumstantial than talent-driven.
"I think from last year, you're used to everybody in the (Mustangs' lineup) being a .400ish hitter," said Hansen. "This year we've got a lot of new, young guys and it's been a little bit slower but it could pay dividends. We're playing close games right now and I think that we're going to be battle-tested coming down the stretch."
An area that hasn't been much of a concern thus far is pitching and North Medford's Colton Westfall held up his end of the bargain against the Falcons. Westfall, who just wrapped up his freshman season, improved to 3-0 after allowing seven hits and four earned runs in six innings. The right-hander struck out two and walked four but was aided by a pair of double plays among his defensive support.
Making things a little trickier for Westfall was the fact that the Mustangs scored in four of the first five innings, with some frames creating quite a lull between pitches for him. Medford sent a minimum of five batters to the plate in the first five innings and as many as 10, while he had only one inning where he faced more than four batters in that same span.
Through four innings, Westfall had thrown only 37 pitches.
"That's always tough to bounce back after a 15- or 20-minute inning while you're up to bat but he does a good job of preparing himself in between innings," said Mayben. "The mental side of his game for a freshman is very advanced."
Medford got off to a smashing start in the first inning, sending eight batters to the plate and scoring four runs against Klamath Falls starter Paul Smith. Charlie Walker smacked a leadoff single and then used two stolen bases to get to third in between walks to Taylor Humphrey and Schlecht. Hansen's bases-loaded double plated two runs and the Mustangs added an RBI groundout by Jessie Hornbrook and two-out single by Bradd to build a 4-0 lead.
Klamath Falls fought back to put three runs on the board in the top of the second, highlighted by a two-run single from Justin Willhite, but the Mustangs just kept plugging along. Medford had 10 stolen bases before putting the brakes on itself early in the fourth inning, and the Mustangs also took advantage of 12 walks and two hit batters overall to keep the pressure on the Falcons.
Cody Hoff scored on an error in the second and Humphrey scored on a sacrifice fly by Schlecht to make it 6-3, then Medford broke the game open with six runs in the bottom of the fourth.
Smith walked Humphrey and Schlecht to end his night in the fourth, then Hansen greeted relief pitcher Ryan Stewart with an RBI single after Humphrey stole third and scored on a throwing error by catcher Joe Whisler. Another walk, this time to Nate Namanny, set the stage for a two-run double by Bradd, who scored on an RBI single by Hoff. Evan Westhelle-Grant made it 12-3 when he scored on a groundout by Charlie Walker.
The Mustangs built a 14-4 cushion in the fifth after Hansen had his fourth hit and later scored on a fielder's choice by Bradd, his fourth RBI of the game. Hornbrook also scored on an error in the inning.
Hayden Evans' RBI single in the eighth scored Ryan Wellock with Medford's final run.
Klamath Falls 030 011 012 — 8 10 7
Medford 420 620 01x — 15 11 2
P. Smith, Stewart (4) and Whisler; Westfall, Luzny (7), Fredrickson (9) and Westhelle-Grant, Wallan (5). W — Westfall (3-0). L — P. Smith. 2B — KF: McGahan, White; M: Hansen, Bradd.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry