ROSEBURG — Medford wanted to win on Day 4 of the American Legion AAA state tournament, but Corvallis needed to win and that difference in intensity helped settle the score in Tuesday’s contest here at Legion Field.
Facing elimination with a loss, the Corvallis Gerding Builders Marketmen rallied to tie the defending champion Mustangs on four occasions before ultimately prevailing 7-6 in nine innings in a back-and-forth battle that did nothing to Medford’s title hopes.
“It was like we were biting nails the whole game and tight the whole game,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben, “and I don’t know why. I have no doubts that tomorrow we’ll come out with the intensity that we need and focus and confidence that we need, we just didn’t have it today.”
As the last remaining undefeated team of the tournament, Medford (40-10) was angling to put itself in a position where it had two chances to win one game Wednesday in order to claim its fifth straight state championship.
With the extra-inning loss, the Mustangs will wait to see who prevails at noon Wednesday between Corvallis (27-19) and the Mid-Valley Southpaws (26-15), who earned a 6-5 comeback win over the Dallas Dirtbags earlier Tuesday, to know who they’ll face in the finale. The winner-take-all championship game will be played around 3 p.m.
“I think we went into (Tuesday’s game) looking to win because I think we’re pretty tough to beat two games in a row,” said Mustangs outfielder Wyatt Baptiste, “but credit to (Corvallis), they won and now there’s nothing better than going out tomorrow and trying to win a state championship in one game.”
“We have to flush it,” said Baptiste of the loss, “because tomorrow’s a whole new day. We’ve just got to go in with a new mentality and intensity tomorrow that we kind of didn’t have today in some innings. I think tomorrow it’s just big for us to keep it up the whole game and I know we will because it’s a big game, it’s for the state championships. It should be fun tomorrow.”
The Mustangs had their chances to pull away from Corvallis on Tuesday but the Marketmen continually found a way to lessen the damage against them with good pitching by starter Ethan Krupp and reliever Riley Smith. Medford left 11 runners on base, including nine in scoring position.
“We’ve got to come up with those big knocks if we want to win big games, that’s what it comes down to,” said Mayben.
Still, Medford never trailed in Tuesday’s game until the final tally in the ninth inning. The Mustangs took leads of 1-0 in the first, 3-1 in the third, 4-3 in the fourth and 6-4 in the fifth before the Marketmen responded each time.
After the Mustangs left the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning, when Zac Ankeny struck out on a 3-2 pitch following three foul balls, a clearly pumped up Corvallis squad responded in the bottom half of the frame. A leadoff single by Axel Bumpus off reliever Jack Thompson was followed by a wild pitch to put him in scoring position. On an ensuing sacrifice bunt by Grant Carley, Thompson took a quick glance at trying for the lead runner at third before settling on getting the first out at first base.
Mayben opted to intentionally walk Corvallis’ Nos. 4-5 hitters James Anderson and Logan Williams to set up a force play at all bases, and Thompson got a much-needed pop up to second baseman Brennen Watts for the second out. On a 3-2 count to Roy Williams, however, Thompson’s offering tailed too far inside and hit the batter to plate the winning run.
“I wouldn’t put those two guys on with intentional bases if I didn’t have any confidence in Jack throwing strikes,” said Mayben. “Those things happen, it’s baseball. That’s just what it comes down to, they got us out in a full-count, bases-loaded situation and we didn’t, and that was the difference in the game.”
Baptiste led Medford by going 3-for-5 — he was robbed of a fourth hit on a running grab by center fielder Franklin Leonard — with one RBI. Brennen Watts and Justin Geyer each had two hits, one run and one RBI, while Jon-o Gassman had an RBI double in the fifth inning and Ankeny followed with a perfectly placed bunt for an RBI single to give Medford a 6-4 edge.
A sore knee resulting from a foul ball off his leg Monday night left Jacob Melton to designated hitter duties Tuesday — meaning Baptiste moved to center field and Geyer to left field in only his second-ever start in that role. Melton finished 2-for-5 with one run and one RBI, but the Marketment were able to take advantage of a couple misplays in the outfield to assist their comeback efforts.
“That was the nine we wanted and we were comfortable with,” said Mayben. “Most importantly what we wanted was for Jake to be healthy tomorrow. His knee is a little sore but it’s fine. What we didn’t need is for him to twist his knee in the outfield or something like that and not be ready to go for tomorrow because that’s what’s important.”
Melton is slated to get the starting nod for the Mustangs, with everyone available in relief besides Game 2 winner Joe Johnson, Game 3 winner Ethan Whitney and Game 4 starter Ricky Boortz, who allowed four earned runs (six overall) on five hits with four strikeouts and five walks. Melton allowed only one hit in five innings during Medford’s state opener.
Boortz, Sandoval (6), J. Thompson (8) and B. Thompson, Geyer (8); Krupp, Smith (8) and L. Williams. W — L. Williams. L — J. Thompson (3-2). 2B — M: Geyer, Gassman; C: R. Williams, Leonard, Carley.