North Medford's Jesse Hornbrook follows through on his triple during Friday's playoff victory over Grant. - Larry Stauth Jr.

North heats up to thwart Grant

It took a little while but North Medford finally broke through the chill in the air Friday thanks to a flame-throwing effort by Matt Maurer and some equally hot hitting throughout the Black Tornado lineup.

Maurer fanned 11 and allowed only one hit in six innings and No. 3-ranked North Medford had six extra-base hits among its 13 overall to overwhelm Grant, 10-0, in the first round of the Class 6A baseball state playoffs.

The win sets up an intriguing second-round matchup Tuesday between the Black Tornado (23-3) and second-ranked Lake Oswego. The host Lakers boast a 24-2 record, with both losses suffered at home against Roseburg (2-1 on March 18) and Lakeridge (4-3 on April 21).

"I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be a great game," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe. "We get an opportunity and that's all you can ask for."

The Generals (14-12) stranded a pair of baserunners in the first inning and limited the Tornado to only one hit through the first turn of the lineup, but things took a dramatic swing after that. Maurer struck out five straight on 18 pitches and North scored four runs in the bottom of the third to take complete control, with the only thing slowing matters being a 15-minute rain delay in the top of the fourth.

"Sometimes the first games of the playoffs are tough because you're kinda jittery," said Maurer, "but once we got going it was a snowball effect."

That "snowball" concept seemed almost fitting given the unseasonably cold conditions at North Medford High, and it affected Maurer early as he battled to warm up his left arm. He hit leadoff batter Byron Brown on the leg, then allowed a one-out walk before gaining a pair of groundouts to get out of the inning.

After that, Maurer was practically unhittable. Grant failed to put a ball in play again until there were two outs in the third. The Generals' lone hit against the senior all-star came on the first pitch after the rain delay by pinch-hitter Cameron Kokes.

"The first inning was a little shaky. I had a long time between my bullpen and the game," said Maurer, "but once I got going it felt really good and my arm loosened up. I threw strikes, which was kind of a miracle today with it being this cold."

Maurer needed only 75 pitches to get through six innings, then gave way to fellow senior Bradey Shipley for a scoreless seventh inning.

"What we wanted to do was set the tone there a little bit and keep Matt's pitch count down and then come in with Bradey," said Wolfe. "That rain hit and we almost came in with Bradey earlier, but we didn't end up having to."

With Maurer essentially taking care of the defensive effort, North's lineup dialed it in for its follow-up at-bats against Grant right-hander Alek Johnson.

Shaun Whitehead reached on an error by third baseman Paris Penn to open the third, then was sacrificed to second base by Michael Paxton. Colin Sowers followed with a scorching triple over the head of left fielder Orion de Nevers and suddenly the lid was off the jar. After an RBI groundout by Shipley, Seth Brown singled and moved to third on a double by Cody James. Still with two outs, Jesse Hornbrook blasted a two-run triple to the right-field corner for a 4-0 lead.

"He threw from sidearm and we really picked it up the second time through and just waited for pitches and drove his fastball," said Hornbrook, who finished 2-for-3 with one run and three RBIs.

Whitehead doubled in the fourth and scored on a pair of errors by the Generals for a 5-0 lead. Ominous looking rain clouds hovered above the field and dumped down hail and waves of rain to put the contest in jeopardy, but the sky cleared soon after and allowed the Tornado to breath a sigh of relief.

In the bottom of the fifth, Brown singled, stole his second base of the day and scored on a single to the outfield by Hornbrook. Cory Haggans followed with an RBI single, Matt Maurer laced a run-scoring triple to the right-field fence and Whitehead added an RBI single of his own to push North's lead to 9-0.

"We feed off each other," said Hornbrook. "If the team's got a lot of energy, we just keep it going."

In all, the Southwest Conference runner-up belted out three triples and three doubles against Johnson, who struggled to keep North off the bases after the second inning.

"With these guys, you can't leave the ball up," said Grant head coach Rob Kennewell of the Tornado. "The one thing with Al, if his stuff is working for him, he's good, and if he's gonna leave that fastball up, it's tough. They did a nice job of hitting."

Shipley doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly by James to cap the scoring in the sixth. The first eight batters in the North lineup had at least one hit, with Travis Cash adding a pinch-hit single for good measure, and seven different players drove in at least one run.

"We just came out and played hard and I'm excited about our team energy and team effort," said Wolfe. "That's what it's going to take to get us through this short season."

Grant 000 000 0 — 0 2 3

North Medford 004 141 x — 10 13 1

Johnson and Swanson; Maurer, Shipley (7) and Sowers. W — Maurer (9-0). L — Johnson (8-5). 2B — NM: James, Whitehead, Shipley. 3B — NM: Sowers, Hornbrook, Maurer.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail

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