Tornado falls prey to another tough call

Win or lose in recent state-playoff history, few things have come easy for the North Medford baseball team.

The No. 3-ranked Black Tornado fell prey to another tough season-ending loss on Tuesday, with a controversial play dooming North for the second straight year in the Class 6A state playoffs.

Despite a no-hit pitching effort from junior standout Matt Maurer, fourth-ranked Tualatin was able to gain a 1-0, second-round victory on its home field behind the solid pitching of Mark Lambson and the benefit of a third-inning ruling.

"I feel really bad for the kids but I'm really proud of our team," said North Medford coach Brett Wolfe. "They won their third consecutive conference championship and that's something that hasn't been done in quite a while. I'm really proud of their heart and their ability to compete. They had a great season."

North Medford capped its season at 24-5, while Tualatin (23-5) advances to play McNary in Friday's quarterfinals.

The lone run of Tuesday's game came in unconventional fashion, with Tualatin's Cody Gibson reaching safely with two outs after his grounder to second base was relayed low to first baseman Cody James by Chris Bradshaw. After Maurer walked Brandon Snyder — one of only two free passes allowed by the left-hander all game — the Timberwolves pulled off a double steal to put runners on second and third.

That's when things went a little haywire.

Tualatin catcher John Grill hit a hard two-hopper to third baseman Mark Cokenour that popped out of his glove. As the senior bent to retrieve the baseball for a throw to first base, Snyder ran into the third baseman and bowled him over.

Instead of calling interference on the play, Wolfe said the umpire ruled the play was good and the run should count.

"It was an opportunity for us to get out of the inning unscathed and, unfortunately, it was decided by someone other than our players," said the 15th year Black Tornado coach. "It was a blatant misrepresentation of the call. The kid dropped his shoulder and ran over Mark at third base, it was more like a middle linebacker slamming a tailback. He had him out by 20 feet, it wasn't going to be close. That was unfortunate."

Wolfe said he didn't get much explanation on the call after the play. When he went out to dispute the call, he was quickly ejected from the game.

"It was a call that needed to be protested and the umpire tossed me out in less than 31/2 seconds," said Wolfe.

What the coach missed out on afterwards was the continuation of one of Maurer's finest pitching performances in some time. He retired the final 10 batters after the controversial play and finished with five strikeouts.

"Matt pitched really well," said Wolfe. "He should've had a chance to win the ballgame."

North Medford mounted its first scoring threat in the second inning when Lambson hit Maurer with a pitch and Cokenour followed with a single, but neither player was able to advance.

Bradshaw extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a single in the third but was picked off first base with two outs. James led off the fourth with a walk but catcher Colin Sowers followed with a fly-ball out, and Bradey Shipley's soft liner over second base was hauled in and James was doubled off after running on the play.

In the fifth, Cory Haggans singled with two outs but was stranded.

Lambson allowed three hits overall and finished with four strikeouts and one walk for Tualatin.

In last year's state semifinals, North Medford appeared to plate the tying run in the seventh at Tigard, only to have it reversed on a disputed call to send the Tigers to a 4-3 victory.

With no outs and Maurer on third after a leadoff triple, 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 a Tigard appeal was upheld when the third-base umpire ruled Maurer left a step early before the ball was caught — thus making him ineligible to score.

In 2007, North Medford earned the 6A title in a nail-biter, 3-2 over Westview. The Black Tornado had advanced to the final after rallying with five runs in its final at-bat against Jesuit and three runs in its final at-bat in the semis at Tualatin.

North Medford 000 000 0 — 0 3 2

Tualatin 001 000 x — 1 0 0

Maurer and Sowers; Lambson and Grill. W — Lambson. L — Maurer (8-2).

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

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