Mustangs hitting their stride

Mustangs hitting their stride

Neil Emerson's goal Sunday afternoon was to come out and establish the strike zone early and then go from there for the Medford Mustangs in the championship game of the Best of the West Challenge.

That simple approach — as well as a nasty curveball — paid off in a big way for the former Phoenix High standout against the Salem Withnell Dodgers at Harry & David Field.

The right-hander struck out eight and allowed only two hits in six innings to lead the Mustangs to an 8-1 triumph over Salem in a battle of the tournament's lone undefeated teams.

The championship was Medford's third in the tournament's four years and allowed the Mustangs to avenge last Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, who played Sunday without Tyson Giza and Mackie Unruh.

"If I just hit my spots, I knew I'd be fine out there," said Emerson. "I have a great defense behind me and know they'll make plays if I just have them hit mostly ground balls."

The Dodgers lifted only one hard hit ball into the outfield against Emerson or seventh-inning reliever Ian Kendall. The only other ball to even clear the infield came on a first-inning flare through the right side by Parker Miles.

"Colin (Sowers) does a great job calling the pitches behind the plate," Emerson said of his ability to keep Salem off balance.

The best call of the day might have been requests for Emerson's curveball, which routinely left Dodgers hitters frozen at the plate thanks to a swooping late break.

"I just basically got out there and it started working so I started using it more often," he said of the pitch.

Emerson said the ability to control that pitch, as well as bust in some well-placed fastballs, has come through hard work this past season at Oregon Tech.

"I've been developing more pitches over this year at college and working on my own trying to work them into my routine more," said Emerson, who posted a team-best 3.01 ERA to go with a 6-4 record this past season for the Owls. "My form is coming around, and I'm starting to be able to spot up better and throw harder this year."

After three scoreless innings, the Mustangs (15-2) finally managed to give Emerson some offensive support in the top of the fourth inning. Chris Bradshaw led off the inning with a grounder that was misplayed by shortstop Blake Miller to allow him to reach safely. Garrett Tygerson followed with a single and Kendall matched that with an RBI single against Salem side-armer Justin Martinez.

"Neil pitched a great game today, and we just tried to support him," said Kendall, who finished 2-for-3 with one run and two RBIs.

The Dodgers, however, utilized a leadoff walk to Joey Placek and a one-out double to the right-center gap by Cole Ferguson to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth.

Salem managed to get the first two outs of the sixth inning, but things unraveled soon thereafter. Tygerson reached on an infield single and Martinez walked Kendall and Griff Boyd to load the bases. Matt Maurer followed with a grounder to second baseman Travis Koon, but the ball glanced off his glove to allow two runs to score.

Sowers followed with a two-run double to the right-center gap to snap an 0-for-16 slump.

"It was probably one of the best situations that I could've come out of it," said the North Medford High senior-to-be. "I've been hitting in the cages a lot, but there's nothing that you can do especially. You've just got to wait for it to happen and try to stay positive. I just did what I could and it came at a good time."

Hayden Wolfe followed with another grounder that was misplayed by Koon and allowed Sowers to score and cap a five-run inning, all unearned.

The errors were a far departure from how Salem had played defense up to that point. With the help of Koon and Miller, the Dodgers turned four double plays in the opening five innings to stave off the Mustangs.

"They had a lot of double plays today, but our guys just kept swinging the bats, and we knew it would come around," said Emerson. "We hit really well in this tournament."

Medford managed 11 hits in seven innings Sunday to continue a surge that saw the Mustangs outscore their four tournament opponents 39-7 and outhit their foes 47-13.

"I feel like everyone's just starting to hit the ball great now," said Kendall, who has now hit safely in all 12 games he's played for the Mustangs. "We're just trying to put the ball in play and get runs across to support our pitchers."

Bradshaw, Tygerson and Boyd joined Kendall in getting two hits Sunday, with Kendall also coming on in the seventh to notch a pair of strikeouts in a 1-2-3 frame.

OF NOTE: Sunday's game began with a special "missing-man formation" by his peers in recognition of umpire Jim Chubb, who collapsed during Thursday's first game of the tournament and died at the age of 58.

Medford Mustangs 000 105 2 — 8 11 0

Salem Withnell Dodgers 000 010 0 — 1 2 3

Emerson, Kendall (7) and Sowers, L. Sebrell (7); Martinez, Obay-Hernandez (7) and Miles. W — Emerson (2-0). L — Martinez. 2B — M: Sowers, Bradshaw; S: Ferguson.

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

Share This Story