North Medford loses heartbreaker to Tigard in semifinals

TIGARD — One minute pure elation, the next disbelief.

That's how it started — and ended — for the North Medford baseball team against Tigard on Tuesday in the Class 6A state semifinals.

The top-ranked Black Tornado (27-3) scored three runs in the first inning, then appeared to plate the tying run in the seventh only to have it reversed on a disputed call, sending Tigard to the 4-3 victory.

"I was proud of them that they battled hard," North Medford coach Brett Wolfe said. "Unfortunately I don't think it was decided by the players. It was decided by a call that maybe shouldn't have gone that way."

That call came with no outs and North trailing 4-3 in the seventh with sophomore Matt Maurer on third after a leadoff triple.

Sophomore Cody James lifted a shallow fly ball to right field and Maurer left from third, beating the throw home to score the apparent tying run.

But Tigard pitcher Ryan Gorton appealed to third and the third-base umpire ruled Maurer left a step early before the ball was caught — thus making him ineligible to score.

"I made sure I left a step late because I didn't want that to happen and it did," Maurer said of the play. "All the air was taken out of us. We were in it the entire game and had it in the seventh inning."

Wolfe, the third-base coach, argued the call for a short time and was adamant after the game that Maurer did in fact leave after the catch.

"I actually had him held up," Wolfe said of Maurer. "He left a step late. I told him to draw the throw. It (the hit) wasn't that deep. It's unfortunate the call went that way."

Gorton struck out the next batter, senior Zack Earle — one of 10 strikeouts on the day for Gorton — propelling Tigard (20-10) to its first state championship game appearance in 20 years.

The senior-led Tigers seemingly came out of nowhere. They were not ranked in the top 10 to end the season, and finished third in the Pacific Conference, but have since knocked off the state's No. 2 team and, now, No. 1 team.

Tigard will face Clackamas, a 3-0 winner over Lake Oswego, for the state title on Saturday.

"Unbelievable," Tigard coach Tom Campbell said. "You can't describe the feeling."

Campbell said he clearly saw Maurer leave third base early.

"He was almost a whole foot early," Campbell said. "Every coach on the bench was screaming and hollering."

Tigard's Gorton earned the win with a gutsy, complete-game performance to improve to 11-0. He allowed just four hits and walked only two.

He survived a shaky first inning, when he gave up all three North Medford runs and faced eight batters. He walked Earle, hit Jordan Bostwick and allowed RBI singles by Andrew Jones and Colin Sowers.

But Gorton, a senior, was in control after that, even striking out the side in the next inning. He never faced more than four North batters in the final six innings and kept the Tornado hitters on their toes by mixing in more off-speed pitches.

"I haven't been doing that the last couple games," Gorton said. "I've been relying on the fastball. Kids can catch up to the fastball. I just located my curve and my change, especially early in the count.

"I've never been this far in the playoffs. This is an awesome feeling."

North did not have any player with multiple hits — this coming from a team that had outscored opponents 40-4 and outhit opponents 48-11 in three earlier playoff games.

"That's a very good ball club," Campbell said of North. "That just shows how competitive Ryan Gorton is. He's an unbelievable athlete. He showed that again today. He didn't have his great stuff today but he battled back. He beat a very good baseball team."

Senior center fielder Ty Morrison led Tigard with a 3-for-3 effort. He opened the third with a home run to cut the deficit to 3-2 and scored the go-ahead run after a double in the fifth.

Senior catcher Conor Clark was 2-for-3 with two RBIs for Tigard.

Maurer was tagged with the loss despite a strong effort in relief of senior starter Andrew Jones. Maurer pitched three innings, allowing one run and striking out six.

North, the state's top team most of the season, was looking to defend its 2007 Class 6A state title and reach the state championship game for the fourth time since Medford High split in 1986.

That opportunity was very nearly a reality on Tuesday.

"We're a team that, no matter what the score is, we are going to fight hard," Maurer said. "We fought hard the entire game. It just didn't turn out our way."

North Medford 300 000 0 — 3 4 0

Tigard 102 010 x — 4 6 0

Jones, Maurer (4) and Sowers; Gorton and Clark. W — Gorton (11-0). L — Maurer (9-3). 2B — T: Morrison, Clark. 3B — NM: Maurer. HR: T: Morrison.

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail

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