Ryan Lorenz had his first chance to tryout for the Medford Mustangs following his junior year at Eagle Point High but he couldn’t crack an American Legion AAA squad that was stacked that summer and ultimately fell just shy of a national championship.
He had high hopes of making the squad in the summer of 2016, but enrollment overages kept Eagle Point from being an eligible school for the Mustangs to draw from for its player population.
It’s been that way throughout the history of the summer baseball team, with only a few Eagles able to fall into the right slot to play for the Mustangs.
This summer, however, the enrollment figures are down across the board for the Mustangs’ player pool and, because of that, there is a decided Eagle Point influence on the team for the first time in its storied history.
“I’m excited this summer to finally get the opportunity to play with these guys,” said the 19-year-old Lorenz. “It’s been a fun ride and a great opportunity for me and the other Eagle Point guys to finally be part of the Mustangs.”
American Legion AAA teams have a 5,000 limit for enrollment (grades 10-12) from the schools they draw from. The Mustangs field players from North Medford and South Medford high schools, Ashland, Phoenix, Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s. Eagle Point has always been on the cusp of eligibility for that mix but has typically retained its players to play at the Legion A level for North Jackson.
“We’ve always wanted those guys so it’s nice to get them onto our team finally,” said Mustangs manager Nate Mayben. “It’s nice to add that whole community out there in Eagle Point into what we do here because they really do support their teams. I think it’s going to be big for us as the Mustangs moving forward and trying to maintain who we are and what we do with kids in the valley to continue that relationship with Eagle Point.”
How it plays out down the road is yet to be seen, but the immediate impact this summer has been undeniable as a group of five Eagles have blended in nicely with a host of Mustang returners. With a doubleheader sweep on Saturday at the W.A.B.F. Tournament in Fairfield, California, Medford has jumped to a 19-5-1 record through the first month of the season.
Lorenz, who starts in right field and bats second, entered the tournament batting .314 with eight runs and 12 RBIs. Recent EP graduates Coldin Shopp (2-0, 3.00 ERA) and Preston Johnson (2-2, 9.00 ERA) have bolstered the pitching rotation, and catcher Charles Little (.278) gave the team an early boost behind the plate while the Mustangs were short-handed. Senior-to-be Dylan Marsh (.375, 12 runs, 10 RBIs) has been the surprise of the bunch after taking command of the starting job at third base and flourishing offensively and defensively.
“It’s really been a great privilege to be on the Mustangs, I’m really enjoying it,” said the 17-year-old Marsh. “If you make a mistake, your teammates are there to always back you up. It’s just really a great program. The coaches are great and they really teach you how to work as a team and not just yourself.”
“I grew up wanting to be on the Mustangs,” added Marsh. “I grew up hearing about the tradition and how they’re a great baseball team so it was an easy decision for me to tryout. I was a little surprised I made it because I’m sort of on the younger side but I was really excited to have the chance to play for them.”
All involved spoke of how current Eagle Point head coach Josh Leedy made it easy for them to take the chance with the Mustangs, with Leedy throwing his support toward Mayben and his program to his players.
“I talked to Josh last year that we might have the opportunity to bring the Eagle Point kids over and would he be willing to let his kids do that and he was all for it, he was excited,” said Mayben. “It was a shame the enrollment didn’t end up working out (being over by 25 students) but this year I pushed for it again and told Josh I think it’s finally going to happen and he was right there saying yeah, absolutely we’d love to have our guys playing for you. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have everyone on board like that.”
What Mayben can speak about is the group’s seamless integration thus far.
“Those five guys that have come over have just been welcomed in and it’s like they were part of the team last year,” said Mayben. “They’re fitting right in and it’s not a mystery of who they are or if they’re secluding themselves, the returners and all the guys have done a good job of saying, ‘This is the Mustangs and we’re here to play for that tradition and what that means.’”
That message has been loud and clear, and definitely well-received.
“For me, it’s been the way they do things,” Lorenz said of his biggest eye-opening part of being a Mustang. “Everything’s done the right way and you’re held to a high standard. I think that’s great and the only way you get better. They want you to become a better person not only on the field but off the field. I think so far coach Mayben’s done great things with me and I’m definitely improving to where I need to be.”
Lorenz said he probably wasn’t ready for the Mustangs when he tried out in 2015, but the development of the Eagle Point program under Leedy has him excited about the future prospects getting their chance to shine in the summer as part of the biggest game in town.
“As long as the talent stays the way that it is and the kids keep producing, I think the coaches will like to see this continue,” said Lorenz. “I’m hoping that Eagle Point has the opportunity to play with the Mustangs in the future because it’s good competition and definitely helps create more athletes and improves everyone’s skills as a baseball player.”
Were it not a true numbers game, the Mustangs might have brought more Eagle Point players on board this summer but there simply weren’t enough spots of need for the talent available. That left Mayben and company to sign off on three EP players to play for the Grants Pass Nuggets this summer, although it’s not clear if Medford had to sign off on the trio because they tried out for the Mustangs first or if EP is in fact a district affiliate for the program.
While this season is still young, players like Marsh are already looking forward to coming back for another run in 2018.
“They’ve helped me with so much already, I look forward to coming back next year and being better than what I’ve been this year, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working hard to be better and see how it goes.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry