Winners of four straight Great West League games, the Medford Rogues had a prime opportunity to close the gap on league-leading Chico during Friday night’s rare doubleheader at Harry & David Field.
While the opportunity was there, the stellar play that had drawn the Rogues into second place in the GWL simply wasn’t until too late as the Heat cooled off their hosts with a pair of seven-inning victories, 8-3 and 5-3, in front of a crowd of 1,509.
“We just came out and faced some good pitching,” said Medford designated hitter Tanner Cantwell. “I don’t think we were really ready to go the first game but we came prepared the second game. It was just a couple tough outings, that’s how the games go.”
The good news for Medford (16-13) is that it’s a quick turnaround for redemption against Chico (22-5), which has now won five straight games and leads Lincoln by six games and the Rogues by seven games. The third game of what will be a four-game series will take place at 6:35 tonight as the Rogues host Military Appreciation Night at Harry & David Field.
“That’s the beauty of baseball,” said Rogues assistant coach Danny Sales, who remains at the helm until manager Tyler Graham returns from helping lead Oregon State to the College World Series championship. “Even when you don’t bring your best two games and lose to a good team, you get another crack at them tomorrow and Sunday. There’s not a lot of time to think about what we did wrong, we’ve just got to go out there tomorrow and hopefully get one.”
Service members who show their valid military I.D. will get in for free tonight, and the Rogues will be wearing special military-themed jerseys that will be put up for auction during the game. All proceeds from the auction will benefit Rogue Valley Veterans Community Outreach.
The Rogues fell behind 5-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning of Game 2 before Josh McIntyre gave his squad a jolt with a two-out, two-run home run down the left field line that sailed just inside the foul pole for only the second hit allowed by starter Justin Sterner.
“It kind of got us going and energized the dugout a little bit,” said Sales, “but after that we weren’t very good with runners on base and that’s the name of the game. You’ve got to have some timely hitting and we just didn’t do that tonight, but I expect these guys to come out and you’ll see a different team tomorrow night.”
It was 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth when Cantwell laced a leadoff triple to the left-center gap off reliever Grant Dragmire to again fire up the crowd. Cantwell, who went 2-for-3 in each game of the twin bill, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Blake Baumgartner that was dropped by center fielder Jordan Parker to allow him to move to second base.
With a chance at a big inning, Dragmire was able to minimize the damage with two strikeouts and a groundout.
“We got good at-bats for the most part, that’s just how baseball goes,” said Cantwell. “You fail seven out of 10 times so there’s nothing you can really do there.”
What also didn’t help is the rare miscues that seemed to hinder the Rogues on Friday. From poor baserunning decisions to a lost ball in the lights and sluggish starts from the typically reliable starting pitching, it just wasn’t Medford’s night.
“We didn’t really get great outings out of our starting pitchers so that kind of set the tone for them,” said Sales, “and on top of that we couldn’t really string things together. We’d scratch one or two over here and there but couldn’t really get anything going. We’ve definitely got to clean up the baserunning, though, stuff like that just can’t happen.”
Given more opportunities, Cantwell said he has faith in his Rogues teammates that they will turn everything around quickly.
“Every day is a new day,” he said, “so we’ve just got to come out and prepare like we do every day and fine tune some of the stuff that we didn’t really do well today and just come back and play as hard as we can tomorrow.”
Medford took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Game 1 when Tommy Ahlstrom’s groundout plated Kody Garvin, who had earlier singled, but Chico wasted little time in providing an answer. The Heat scored three runs in the top of the second, capped by a two-run bloop single over Ahlstrom at second base by Brandon Stewart to build a 3-1 advantage.
It was 4-1 when the Rogues battled back for two runs in the bottom of the third when Robby Ahlstrom singled and scored on an error and Cantwell supplied an RBI double to plate Garvin.
Unfortunately for Medford, it was all Chico from that point on as the Heat took advantage of three walks and a hit batter by reliever Donte Glover to score three runs in the fifth after an RBI single by Andrew Meggs in the fourth to build its final margin of victory.
Robby Ahlstrom was 3-for-3 with one run in Game 1 for Medford, while Cole Carder extended his hitting streak to 14 games but had that run halted in Game 2. Wyatt Branch was 3-for-4 with three runs and two RBIs and Stewart had three RBIs to pace Chico, which tagged Medford starter Tanner Simpson for 10 hits and five runs in four innings to support winning pitcher Shane Gustafsen.
Gustafsen, McLaughlin (5), Bonner (7) and Phillips; Simpson, Glover (5), Carle (7) and Bell, Elvis (7). W — Gustafsen (3-0). L — Simpson (3-1). 2B — C: Lemmel, Branch, Phillips; M: Cantwell, T. Ahlstrom.
Sterner, Dragmire (5), Abernathy (7) and Stowe; Moore, Smith (5) and Bath. W — Sterner (5-0). L — Moore (1-3). S — Abernathy (3). 3B — M: Cantwell. HR — M: McIntyre (3).