South Medford's Josh Havird slides safely into home past Wilson catcher Austin Jones in the third inning of Tuesday's Class 6A playoff game. - Jamie Lusch

South strikes early, often in rout

Sometimes being backed into a corner isn't the worst thing for a baseball team. South Medford is living proof of that.

The Panthers needed to win their regular-season finale just to secure a spot in the Class 6A state playoffs, then were down to their final strike before rallying for a 14-inning victory at North Salem on Saturday.

The momentum gained by such efforts was on full display Tuesday in the second round, with South Medford scoring seven runs in the first two innings and then using an 11-run surge in the fourth to dispatch Wilson, 18-6, at Harry & David Field.

"We had a real emotional game on Saturday and I think that carried over to today," said South Medford senior Brandon Dollarhide, who was 4-for-4 with three runs scored. "We just came out with some fire. Our bats haven't been hot at all, really, this past season so I'm just really glad that we came out and just finally started hitting. We put some runs up early and that just boosted our confidence, and from there we just took it and ran."

The Panthers (14-12) entered the contest hitting only .248 as a team but belted out 18 hits to earn only their second quarterfinals appearance in school history. The No. 3 seed from the Southwest Conference will travel to face sixth-ranked Westview (19-7) on Friday. The Wildcats, coached by former Panther coach Steve Antich, edged No. 9 Sandy 7-6 on Tuesday.

"Nobody expected us to be here but we're here and we're having fun and that's the way we're going to approach it," said first-year South Medford head coach Ray Smith. "It's all for fun now. There really is no pressure on us. We just have to go out there and play catch, hit the baseball and have a good time and see if we can take this another step."

It was in Antich's final season with the Panthers (2006) that South first advanced to the quarterfinals, only to lose 4-3 to West Linn. Tuesday's win allowed the Panthers to improve their playoff record to 6-8, and a victory Friday would amazingly make Smith the school's winningest coach in its playoff history.

In another quirk, losses by No. 1 Roseburg, No. 3 North Medford and Grants Pass on Tuesday left South Medford as the lone SWC team remaining in the championship hunt.

"I don't think anyone expected that but I'm glad we can upset some people's minds," said Dollarhide. "All I know is our coach was telling us to go out, have fun and play hard and if you do that good things will happen. And so far, good things have happened to us."

Wild pitches and errors provided an early demise for Wilson (13-15), as well as an RBI triple by Allen Fitzsimmons. The Trojans trailed 7-2 after two innings but used a two-run home run by No. 8 hitter Nathan Huebner to trim their deficit to 7-5 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning.

In yet another test of character, the Panthers came through with flying colors as they answered with nine hits and 11 runs scored — nine of which came after two outs were secured by the PIL runner-up. The Panthers sent 15 batters up to the plate in the frame, getting two hits apiece from Dollarhide and Kyle Seutter.

"It just seemed like every ball they hit dropped in," said 28th-year Wilson head coach Mike Clopton. "Some were hit hard and some weren't. ... There's some destiny there. We just couldn't stop it."

Cody Albertson and Ryan Wellock each had two-run singles in the fourth, with Seutter adding a pair of RBI singles and Dylan Albertson putting a nail in the coffin with a three-run double.

"We just wanted to finish everything off," senior Dylan Albertson said of the big inning. "I've been really struggling up at the plate so I just thought it was time for me to redeem myself and actually do my part up at the plate. I was glad to do that today."

Dylan Albertson finished a home run shy of the cycle in going 3-for-5 with three runs and three RBIs, while Havird scored three times and Seutter and Wellock each were 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs. Every Panther starter scored at least once, and South got hits off the bench from Andrew Phillips, Sierra Land and Ryan Kuykendall for good measure.

Clopton had nothing but praise for the Panthers following the game.

"Like I said to Ray before, they're sorta destined," said the coach. "Even when things were sorta going bad and we got close, they were up-beat and that's a test of their character in what they have done and what they could do. Obviously they have a tough opponent next but they're only one of eight left and that's a good deal for being a No. 3 team in their league. That's a credit to them; they've done a great job."

Wilson 110 310 0 — 6 9 3

South Medford 340 (11)00 x — 18 18 1

Valentine, Holmes (3), Moser (4), Andrews (5), Coffman (6) and Jones; Reames, Phillips (4), Namanny (5) and Fitzsimmons. W — Phillips (6-3). L — Valentine. 2B — SM: Dollarhide, D. Albertson; 3B — SM: Fitzsimmons, D. Albertson. HR — W: Huebner.

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

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