South Medford’s baseball team boasts a lot of weapons and the Panthers put them all on display Saturday in an effort to wrap up their first conference title in 14 years.
South Medford combined for 25 hits with very few lackluster at-bats in dispatching South Eugene in a Southwest Conference doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Community Park, 8-4 and 10-6, to clinch the program’s first league title since 2004.
“It’s been a long time coming for us and we worked real hard getting to this spot to secure the championship,” said ninth-year Panthers head coach Ray Smith. “Now we can move on to maybe that next goal.”
South Medford (18-3, 15-0 SWC) will play host to North Medford on Tuesday and then wrap up the conference season with a doubleheader next Saturday at Willamette, all with designs on becoming the first team to secure an undefeated SWC campaign.
“It feels great to (clinch the conference title),” said South Medford senior Jacob Melton, “but honestly I think we’re all hungry to finish out the season undefeated. That’s our main goal now, to just keep battling every game that we have left.”
If battling was the goal, the Panthers definitely did that against visiting South Eugene (15-10, 10-7) on Saturday. Eight different players had a hit in the opening triumph, and in the nightcap, top-two hitters Melton and Clint Campbell combined to go 7-for-7 with six runs and four RBIs.
“Today we were just seeing the ball very well and it was just all going well for us,” said Panthers senior Jaalen Owens, who was 3-for-3 with two runs and one RBI in the opener and drew three walks with a sacrifice fly in Game 2.
South Medford didn’t waste any time getting going, with Melton and Campbell each reaching base to start the opener before Owens supplied an RBI single. Another hit by Jack Thompson set the stage for Jaylin Parnell, who came through with a two-run single for a 3-0 lead and all the momentum the Panthers would need on this day.
“We were all feeding off each other’s energy today,” said Melton. “We didn’t have a great practice yesterday but we came back strong today. Starting strong in the first game scoring three runs in the first inning really helped carry momentum through the rest of the game.”
The hits simply kept piling up after that, with Melton finishing 2-for-4 with one run and three RBIs, Thompson 2-for-3 with one run and one RBI and Parnell 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
“Situationally we’re grinding out at-bats and we’re doing the right things most of the time,” said Smith. “Every once in a while we have a breakdown but the best thing is that we’re able to recover and bounce back and make our adjustments. I think we saw that today because there were a couple good pitchers out there (for South Eugene) and we were really tuned in. We hit so many balls hard. We only had a couple non-quality at-bats all day so you can’t complain.”
It also didn’t hurt that starting pitcher Ricky Boortz was effective in getting out of tight spots against the Axemen, who had 10 hits of their own but managed only two runs through the first six innings. Boortz improved his record to 6-0.
In Game 2, Melton got the nod for his first start of the season and the left-hander did just enough to keep South Eugene at bay. Where he shined most, to no one’s surprise, was at the plate. He crushed a leadoff home run in the first inning over the high fence in straightaway center field, and later added his eighth homer on another no-doubter to lead off the fifth inning.
“If I had to pick one as my favorite, probably the one in the first inning because it kind of set a tone for us to score some runs throughout the rest of the game,” said Melton in comparing his towering shots. “But everybody hit the ball really well today.”
Melton finished 3-for-3 with four runs and two RBIs in Game 2, and his late-inning replacement, Trevor Marthoski, also had a double to keep up the pace. Campbell finished 4-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, Sebastian Molina 2-for-4 with one run and Parnell 2-for-4 with four RBIs to keep the scoreboard moving for the Panthers.
“Our whole team today was focused on being aggressive and finding your pitch and just trying to drive the ball instead of trying to take it deep every time,” said Parnell, who had seven RBIs overall. “It was all about line drives and hitting balls on the ground and beating them out to do whatever we could do to get on base. For me, guys were on base when I was up so it just worked out that way that I was able to get so many in.”
Trey Nelson went 4-for-4 with two RBIs and Kaden Miller 3-for-3 with one run and one RBI in the opener for South Eugene, while Tristan Vidal and Bryce Boettcher each had two hits in a nightcap that also saw Zach Menegat hit a solo home run in the sixth.
South Eugene 001 001 2 — 4 10 1
South Medford 302 201 x — 8 13 1
Miller and Brown; Boortz, Thompson (7) and Thompson, Carle (7). W — Boortz (6-0). L — Miller. 2B — SE: Boettcher, Miller, Nelson 2; SM: Melton, Letendre. 3B — SM: Thompson.
South Eugene 110 101 2 — 6 8 1
South Medford 223 030 x — 10 12 0
Vidal, McIrvin (3), Laughlin (5) and Brown; Melton, Campbell (6) and Thompson. W — Melton (1-0). L — Vidal. 2B — SE: Vidal, Boettcher, Brown; SM: Molina, Melton, Campbell, Marthoski. 3B — SE: Vidal. HR — SE: Menegat; SM: Melton 2 (8).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry