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Denise Baratta/for the Mail TribuneMedford Mustangs outfielder Jon-o Gassman slides safely into third during a regular-season game.

'Stangs ready to move on

It took a couple days following the aftermath of last week’s American Legion AAA state tournament chaos for the Medford Mustangs to get back to normal, but eighth-year manager Nate Mayben said he believes his team is steadily moving forward with the right mindset heading into this week’s Northwest Regionals.

“Getting that whole appeal process done in two days and the boys some time off and a chance to reset and refocus and realize they’ve been given an opportunity I think was good for us,” said Mayben. “We’re going to try and make the most of it.”

Medford (41-10) opens the eight-team, double-elimination tournament at 9 a.m. Pacific (10 a.m. local time) Wednesday against the Yakima Valley Pepsi Pak of Selah, Washington, at Ogren Park in Missoula, Montana.

The path to a fifth straight Northwest Regionals appearance by Medford was vastly different this time than any other, with the Mustangs losing 6-2 in the state championship game before their appeal that the Mid-Valley Southpaws used an ineligible player was upheld by the American Legion Baseball National Appeals Board on Friday morning.

While the entire process proved messy and left Mayben with mixed emotions, especially given his empathy for the Southpaw players, he said his players were able to adapt fairly quickly once the final decision was made.

“They’re kids, they recover quickly,” said Mayben. “I think it was more the adults and parents that were struggling a little bit more. I think the two days off really helped them settle in that we get to continue. We’ve practiced the last two days and come out with a good intent so I really like where their mindset is right now, I think they’re ready to go.”

That will definitely need to be the case against Yakima Valley (45-12), which repeated as the Washington champion with a 2-1 comeback win in the eighth inning against Lakeside Recovery last week. Pepsi Pak returned only three players from a squad that made it to the final day of the regional tourney last year but was undeterred under veteran head coach Mike Archer in claiming its sixth state title since 1993.

“They did lose a lot of their guys from last year but from everything I’ve heard they’ve got some really good young players,” said Mayben. “(Washington’s champion) is always a really good ballclub. But if you’re going to face them, you might as well face them first and be as prepared as you can be.”

Leading the charge for Pepsi Pak has been returners Riley Lublin, Spencer Bailey and Eric Towsley, who is coming off his freshman year at Columbia Basin.

Lublin was voted the Washington state tournament’s top pitcher for the second straight year last week, while Bailey batted .478 in the seven-game tourney to be named its overall MVP. It was Bailey’s two-out RBI single that allowed Yakima Valley to win in the eighth inning in walk-off fashion. Towsley, who was the team’s primary catcher last year, earned a rare pitching start in the title game and pitched seven scoreless innings.

Yakima Valley enters the regional tourney having won 18 of its last 19 games.

Medford has earned five regional championships, most recently in 2015, and more than half of the Mustangs’ 15-member squad will be making their first appearance in the elite setting.

“This is a new experience for most of our team and they’ll create great memories that they’ll remember for a long time,” said Mayben, “and hopefully part of that memory is playing great baseball.”

The Mustangs take a team batting average of .350 into the tournament, with a team pitching ERA of 2.99. Even with such impressive totals, that doesn’t mean Mayben and company will be resting on their laurels.

“We’ve had some really good practices and worked on some things that we needed to improve on as a team,” said Mayben. “We might change a few things but we’re not 100 percent sure at the moment, a lot of things will depend on how we’re doing in the tournament.”

Mayben said the reason why he would be comfortable in making moves different from the state tournament run, where the Mustangs were the last undefeated team, is simply because he has complete confidence in all his players.

“There’s some other guys who have been swinging it well that didn’t get the opportunity during the state tournament because we didn’t want to change things lineup-wise,” he said. “So we may make some adjustments or we may not, it’s just good to know we have options.”

Jacob Melton leads the Mustangs with a .500 batting average to go with 65 runs and 60 RBIs and is 5-1 on the mound with a 0.55 ERA. Joe Johnson has also been a stellar two-way player, batting .425 with 71 runs and 38 RBIs and boasting an 8-1 record and 1.56 ERA.

Also keying Medford’s run to regionals at the plate has been Jack Thompson (.379, 40 run, 55 RBIs), Justin Geyer (.365, 28 runs, 43 RBIs), Brennen Watts (.361, 48 runs, 25 RBIs), Wyatt Baptiste (.357, 28 runs, 21 RBIs) and Jon-o Gassman (.349, 38 runs, 30 RBIs).

On the mound, returner Ethan Whitney (6-2, 2.47 ERA) and newcomers Rickey Boortz (7-2, 2.98 ERA) and Ryan Sandoval (3-1, 3.43 ERA) have also been valuable assets.

In Wednesday’s other openers, the Juneau (Alaska) Midnight Suns will play the Mountain View Toros (Meridian, Idaho); Waipahu (Hawaii) will play the Billings (Montana) Royals; and Cheyenne (Wyoming) Post 6 will play the host Missoula (Montana) Mavericks.

Should Medford win Wednesday, it will next play at 3 p.m. Pacific Thursday. A loss would result in a 9 a.m. Pacific elimination contest Thursday.

All Northwest Regionals games will be streamed live at mpsn406.com

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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