Medford Mustangs ace Jordan Lewis is a program-best 39-4 in his four years on the mound with the team. - MT file photo

Armed and dangerous

When the Medford Mustangs open the American Legion AAA state tournament today in Corvallis, Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger expects to have a lot on his mind.

Starting pitching, however, won't be much of a concern for Kensinger.

Medford's rotation is set and as potent as it's ever been in his 20 years spent guiding the summer baseball team.

"If we go out and hit the baseball and play defense, we'll be OK because we're fine on the hill," says Kensinger.

From the top pitcher in program history to one of the top left-handed phenoms to come out of the state in quite some time, Medford has its bases covered as the Mustangs begin their quest for a third straight state title — and 12th overall — at 9 a.m. today against Northwest Star Academy.

"They're all just solid," Kensinger says of a pitching staff headlined by Jordan Lewis, Neil Emerson, Matt Maurer and Bradey Shipley.

Lewis will get the call today in a rematch of last year's state championship game, where he limited the then-East County Knights to seven hits with nine strikeouts in a 13-3, seven-inning victory. The former Phoenix High standout is a program-best 39-4 in his four-year career with the Mustangs, entering today's game with a 7-1 record and 2.03 ERA this summer. Lewis has struck out 75 and walked only 19 in 582/3 innings thus far.

"We'll have Jordan ready to roll out, and you don't ever really have to worry about him," says Kensinger. "He's just steady and really competes out there."

In today's other tournament openers, Wilson Alpenrose Dairy plays the Salem Withnell Dodgers at 12:30 p.m., the Canby Cougars face Roseburg Dr. Stewart's at 4 p.m. and host Corvallis Richey's Market plays Newberg Abby's Pizza at 7:30 p.m.

The double-elimination state tournament runs through Sunday at Corvallis High School.

Emerson expects to take the mound for Medford's second game on Thursday and will look to continue what has already been a breakout campaign this summer. The right-hander is another Phoenix graduate and has compiled a 7-0 record and 2.59 ERA with 67 strikeouts and 18 walks in 562/3 innings thus far.

"He's been money all year," says Kensinger.

Should Medford (36-8) advance to a third game, Maurer would get the call Friday.

"If Game 3 is Matt Maurer, that's not a bad one to have ready to go and fresh," adds Kensinger of the North Medford incoming senior.

Maurer (4-1, 3.26 ERA) burst on the scene by helping lead North Medford to the state championship in his freshman season and has been an all-state honoree ever since. His strikeout-to-walk numbers (50 to 34 in 43 innings) belies the true potential for Maurer, who is being recruited by several Pac-10 Conference schools.

"He's a good player and he competes hard," adds Kensinger. "When the pressure cooker's on, he's going to be ready to go for us. There's a lot of eyes on him and has been since he won the state championship game as a freshman."

One keen observer of all the Mustangs has been Oregon State baseball coach Pat Casey, who has already seen a few Medford games and expects to be on hand for this week's state tournament and next week's Northwest Regionals.

"There's extra pressure on the kids with that but you've got to handle that," says Kensinger. "The good players overcome that and go out ready to play and move on."

Adding outstanding support as a starter or in relief has been Shipley, who boasts a 6-1 record and 3.80 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 23 walks in 421/3 innings in his first season with the Mustangs. Shipley will also be a senior at North Medford High this fall.

The rest of the pitching options are just as solid when you talk about Dylan Bedortha (3-2, 2.36 ERA), Charlie Sebrell (1-1, 2.67 ERA), Garrett Tygerson (3-0, 1.78 ERA) and Ian Kendall (1-0, 3.50 ERA).

Medford has already faced Northwest Star Academy this season, earning a 4-1 triumph leading up to its Best of the West Challenge on June 17. Bedortha pitched six shutout innings in that game, while Kendall's two-run double in the first inning got the offense going against the team combining players from the Sandy-Gresham-Troutdale area.

"I still have the charts from that game," says Kensinger, "but I'm sure a lot has changed between now and then."

If the Mustangs are in need of a jolt anywhere, it's in the middle of the lineup where Tygerson, Kendall and Griffin Boyd have slowed somewhat after a torrid pace touched off by the Best of the West tournament. The Nos. 4-5-6 hitters went a combined 1-for-16 in Medford's series-clinching win over Grants Pass in the Area 4 playoffs in their lowest point of the summer.

"Those guys, they have to produce ... they just have to," says Kensinger. "I don't know what to tell them other than go and have fun and do what you've been doing all your life. I think they'll be fine. We'll turn it up a notch a little bit this week, I think, because we're definitely playing for something from here on out."

Kendall leads Medford with a .467 batting average and 11 home runs, and the incoming Ashland High senior also boasts 52 RBIs and 43 runs scored in his first season with the team. Tygerson leads the Mustangs with 48 RBIs and is batting .403 with 32 runs and five homers, while Boyd is batting .336 with 31 RBIs and 33 runs.

Medford has also gotten standout performances from its top three hitters Max Gordon (.420, 42 runs, 25 RBIs), Chris Bradshaw (.424, 44 runs, 34 RBIs) and Zack Earle (.377, 47 runs, 40 RBIs and six homers). Designated hitter Maurer (.358) and right fielder Isaac Rolie (.306) also have been instrumental in turning the lineup over.

While Medford may look good on paper, Kensinger is quick to point out that's not where games are played and he's plenty concerned with the level of opposition he expects to see this week in Corvallis.

"They're all good teams now," he says. "It doesn't matter who you play, it's going to be tough. It's going to be whoever is playing hot right now because they're all pretty solid clubs."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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