Mustangs hit the road for season openers

All things being equal, Sandee Kensinger would much rather postpone the opening of the Medford Mustangs' American Legion AAA season.

The North Medford High assistant baseball coach had the luxury of doing just that last year when the Black Tornado made its run to the Class 6A state title.

It looked as if Kensinger might need to cancel his traditional season-opening trip south for a second straight year, but top-ranked North Medford was tripped up in the state semifinals on Tuesday.

"I wish it was the same this year and we had to cancel again," says Kensinger, in his 19th season as Mustangs manager. "I wasn't planning on making this trip."

But the show must go on, and the Mustangs will open their season at 2 p.m. today with a doubleheader against the Chico Nuts. They'll play one game against the Red Bluff Bulls at noon Sunday and then another doubleheader against the Redding Rattlers later that same day before finally returning home.

"It's good competition, No. 1," Kensinger says of why his team schedules the trek every season, "but we're going to be a little short-handed going down there this time."

With returning college players still making their way back home and others playing out the spring season — as Ashland will be doing today in the Class 5A state championship — Kensinger says he'll only be bringing 13 players on the trip. A 14th player is expected to drive down and meet the team on Sunday.

"I think we have enough players to get through it," he says.

Medford will play its home opener at 7 p.m. Thursday against the Klamath Falls Falcons at Harry & David Field.

Kensinger says he doesn't expect the Mustangs' roster to be finalized until after Monday, when the team will hold its final tryout at 4:30 p.m. at Harry & David Field. There was a sign-up this past Wednesday for players interested in suiting up for the Mustangs, but making it to that meeting is not mandatory in order to participate in the tryout.

The Mustangs are comprised of players — born in 1989 or later — from North Medford, South Medford, Phoenix, Ashland, St. Mary's and Cascade Christian high schools.

Given the talent in the area, finalizing a roster won't be easy for Kensinger. The Mustangs expect to return 11 players off last year's 37-18 squad that won the Legion AAA state title — the 10th state title in program history — and advanced to the Northwest Regionals.

"It's a lot of kids to have back," says Kensinger, adding there are still holes that need to be filled. "It's a really tough club to make. There's going to be a lot of players I just can't keep because of numbers, and that's a really hard thing for me to do. But I have to do it and then we'll move on."

Expected to return this season are collegiate players Logan Odom, Trent Smith, Jared Smith and Dustin Smith, along with players from North Medford High (Zack Earle, Jordan Bostwick, Andrew Jones and Colin Sowers), South Medford High (Griff Boyd) and Phoenix High (Jordan Lewis and Korey Locken).

One player who isn't expected to return is North Medford High sophomore Matt Maurer, who instead will be testing his skills at an elite summer program in Ohio.

Bringing Ashland back into the fold this season allows for the possibility of adding players like Tysin Senestraro, who played this past season at George Fox, and current high school standouts Sam Gaviglio and Lewis and Charlie Sebrell.

The latter all threw their names in the hat during Wednesday's sign-up, but Kensinger told them he didn't want them giving the summer season a second thought until next week.

"I just told them you guys go win a state title and we'll see you on Monday," says the coach.

Mason Yeigh, a backup catcher at North Medford, and Phoenix's Neil Emerson are expected to join the team for this weekend's trip.

A key to settling the final roster will be in ensuring the Mustangs have enough pitching and quality backups to make it through a rigorous 50-plus game schedule that runs through July.

"I've had some tough years, but this is really going to be tough," says Kensinger of finalizing the roster. "I really try to keep my roster around 16. You can keep 18, but it's really hard to get everybody playing time if you do that."

Kensinger says he expects Area 4 to be just as competitive as ever, and certainly one of the toughest leagues in the state thanks to standout returners for the Klamath Falls Falcons, Roseburg Dr. Stewarts, Grants Pass Nuggets and Eugene Challengers.

Squaring off against teams from the Salem and Corvallis area to earn the right to advance to the state tournament will be no picnic, either.

"It's a dogfight," says Kensinger. "Everybody's going to be tough."

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

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