If Medford Mustangs manager Nate Mayben hadn’t seen it firsthand, there is no way he would have believed it.
For the second straight day at the American Legion AAA Northwest Regionals, Mayben’s Mustangs carried a two-run lead into the final inning but were unable to hold that edge, this time falling 6-5 to Waipahu of Hawaii to be eliminated Thursday morning at Ogren Park in Missoula, Montana.
“I don’t know what else to say other than I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for us,” said Mayben, whose team earned its fifth straight Oregon championship to reach the regional tourney.
The Mustangs (41-12) were the last team to secure a bid to the regionals — winning an appeal to negate a loss in the state championship game — and the first to exit after going 0-2 thanks to three runs allowed in the seventh inning in each contest.
“Obviously with our pitching staff, they’ve been phenomenal all year,” said Mayben. “We’ve felt really comfortable most of the year with one- and two-run leads because they’ve gotten the job done more often than not. It’s a funny game and obviously you’ve got to get 21 outs in a seven-inning game and we just had a hard time getting those last three.”
Errors weren’t Medford’s undoing as they were in Wednesday’s opener against the Washington champion, Waipahu just found a way to capitalize with good hitting and a couple breaks against Mustangs reliever Jacob Melton.
Melton hit the first batter he faced in the top of the seventh, then allowed a single to the right side of the infield to put the tying runner on. After a flyout and a full-count walk on his 53rd pitch to load the bases, a low inside pitch by Melton skipped in the dirt and past catcher Justin Geyer to cut Medford’s lead to 5-4 with one out.
Jaron Sugimoto’s RBI single followed to tie the game at 5-all, and another RBI single by Kekaiomalu Adachi put the Hawaiian champs ahead for the first time since the fourth inning.
“Jacob was running thin out there on energy, we could tell,” said Mayben of the flu-ridden left-hander who had entered in the fourth inning. “All we wanted from him was 60 (pitches) at the most, maybe we should’ve taken him out an at-bat or two before but he’s been the guy for us all year and you’re going to have to live and die with that.”
Ryan Sandoval came on in relief and pounced on a sacrifice bunt for the second out and, after an intentional walk, induced an inning-ending flyout with the bases loaded.
Still with a chance to rally, the Mustangs saw Jon-o Gassman get hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the seventh. On a 1-2 pitch to Wyatt Baptiste, Medford opted to create some action with a hit-and-run but Baptiste’s grounder moved sharply to Waipahu’s shortstop near the bag to set up a back-breaking double play.
“The odds of being able to roll up Jon-o and Baptiste on a double play there are pretty thin,” said Mayben. “Wyatt did a good job of getting the ball on the ground, he just hit it too hard and right at the guy. Sometimes you have a little bad luck and they made the play there so you’ve got to tip your cap to them.”
Down to its final out, Medford saw Brady Buchanan come off the bench for a pinch-hit single and Zac Ankeny followed with a single to left field to give the Mustangs a final chance. With leadoff hitter Joe Johnson at the plate, who had doubled in his previous at-bat, Waipahu was able to close out the game with a flyout to right field.
For the bulk of the contest, Waipahu and Medford went back-and-forth.
The Mustangs answered a run by Hawaii in the bottom of the second when Gassman’s grounder got past the second baseman and allowed Jack Thompson to score to make it 1-1.
After Waipahu scored in the third off Medford starter Rickey Boortz, the Mustangs again answered in the bottom half of the frame when they loaded the bases and there was a balk call against Hawaii starter Logan Yee.
That inning, however, was a regrettable one for the Mustangs after loading the bases with no outs and getting only one run in. As has been the case toward the latter part of the season, Medford again had trouble with runners left on base. On Thursday, Medford stranded 10 baserunners.
“It was a battle all day, there’s no doubt,” said Mayben. “They were putting the ball in play and we struggled a little bit. We had a potential big inning with the bases loaded there and ended up scoring one out of it with no outs, and that’s the difference from moving on at this level and not moving on. You’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities, that’s the game.”
In the bottom of the fourth after Waipahu had gone up 3-2, the Mustangs found some clutch hitting with two outs to take the lead on big efforts by Johnson, Brennen Watts and Melton. Johnson started the surge with his two-out double off the right field fence, and Watts followed with an RBI single under the pitcher’s glove that went into center field. Melton followed with a go-ahead triple to the wall in left-center to give the Mustangs their first lead at 4-3.
Medford extended its lead in the sixth to 5-3 when it loaded the bases again and got a sacrifice fly by Melton.
But with the situation eerily similar to Wednesday’s opener, it was a case of deja vu for the Mustangs as their season was soon to be cut short.
“It was a great season for them,” said Mayben. “We’ve created some great memories and some great opportunities and had some fun.”
“This will hurt for a little bit,” added the eighth-year manager, “but these are kids and they’ll bounce back pretty quick.”
Yee, Lum (3) and Kaeo; Boortz, Melton (4), Sandoval (7) and J. Thompson, Geyer (4). W — Lum. L — Melton (5-2). 2B — W: Sugimoto; M: Johnson. 3B — M: Melton.