By nature, Brandon King is a second baseman.
But with a pressing need to help out the pitching rotation this year, the North Medford senior has stepped up and continued to give his team a fighting chance each time he steps on the mound.
Tuesday’s Southwest Conference baseball clash with Willamette was no different for King, who wasn’t necessarily overpowering but used his control and craftiness to keep the visiting Wolverines off balance en route to a 4-0 complete-game victory at North Medford High.
King scattered four hits with four strikeouts, three walks (one intentional) and one hit batter to help the Black Tornado (10-10, 5-8 SWC) snap a three-game losing streak heading into Saturday’s home doubleheader against Grants Pass.
“He throws a lot of strikes and he can throw his curveball basically anytime he wants to for a strike, and that’s where he gets people off balance a lot,” said North Medford assistant coach — and Brandon’s father — John King, who assumed control of the team Tuesday with head coach Brett Wolfe serving a mandatory one-game suspension.
“A lot of people don’t square him up because of the way he throws,” added the elder King. “I thought he did a great job today keeping them off balance. He got in trouble a couple times but he got himself out of it.”
Willamette (3-16, 2-13) has been snake-bitten on several occasions this season under first-year head coach Brian Vogel and experienced a little more of that Tuesday, with the Wolverines stranding two runners in the first two innings, getting the bases loaded with nothing to show for it in the sixth and having another scoring chance snuffed out by a game-ending double play in the seventh.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit defensively but we stepped up today and played pretty good defensively,” said Brandon King, who started the final double play in the seventh on a comebacker and sat down 10 straight Wolverines at one point in the game.
For the Black Tornado, Tuesday’s contest was essentially a must-win opportunity as North Medford clings to hopes of advancing to the Class 6A state playoffs. With upcoming games against SWC leaders South Medford and Roseburg, there isn’t much room for error for a team that has had its ups and downs this season but believes a new chance with the slate wiped clean would be good for it come playoff time.
“We’ve just got to get in and I think we have a shot to take a couple games,” said Brandon King. “We haven’t been playing the best but we haven’t been out of games either. We just need a chance.”
After King escaped early jams against Willamette, North Medford broke through first in the second inning by capitalizing on three consecutive Wolverine errors. Brady Buchanan reached safely with one out on a throwing error by shortstop Peyton Bracy, then advanced to third base when Trevor Corallo’s bunt was misplayed by second baseman Easton Murphy. Buchanan then came home when a bunt by Zack Collins was fielded by starting pitcher Jarrett Allen but thrown wide of first baseman Colby Breaux, who clipped Collins reaching for the ball at the bag and sent the senior third baseman tumbling to the ground.
The way King settled in after the second inning, however, gave rise to the thought that a 1-0 lead might just be enough. Willamette went three up and three down in the third, fourth and fifth innings, with batters often left lunging for pitches and out on their front foot against King’s arsenal of curveballs and knucklers. Every so often, he’d sneak a fastball in to keep the Wolverines guessing.
“I felt like my curveball was pretty good today and I could use it in all my counts consistently and throw it for strikes,” said the 5-foot-8 right-hander. “The knuckler was feeling good today, too. I was throwing it in the bullpen and I could feel it was working pretty good today so I decided to go for it.”
North Medford supplied a nice cushion for King in the third inning with three runs, highlighted by a clutch two-run single by junior Brady Buchanan with one out after King had singled and the Tornado loaded the bases on walks to Ryan Sandoval and Jon-o Gassman.
“Brady really came through, that was a big hit,” said the younger King. “He’s been hitting the ball pretty good so I had confidence in him right there. We’ve had chances in our last couple games that we haven’t been winning but today we capitalized on them so that was nice to see.”
A third run came in on another error by the Wolverines, who had five on the day. Trevor Corallo sent a chopper to the left side that twisted around third baseman Chandler Woods as Gassman burst past him and eventually scored on the play for a 4-0 North Medford advantage.
The rest was all about King and company quieting Willamette, with center fielder Gassman making a couple running grabs on line drives and shortstop Josh Baptiste and second baseman Jeremiah Huffman helping turn two double plays. North Medford remains without leadoff hitter and senior shortstop Quinton Rumrey (knee injury).
“It felt nice just having a little insurance runs,” said the pitcher. “I lost a little bit of control at the end of the game but I wasn’t really worried because we had the cushion so that really helped.”
In all, King needed 90 pitches for his complete game to run his season record to 3-4 overall. His ability to go the distance was especially important considering North Medford lost two tough games at South Eugene on Monday and has two more Saturday against GP for another five-game week of play.
“It feels good just to be able to step up in the role of pitcher and help out,” he said. “I feel like I’m succeeding in it and it feels good to help the team out however I can.”
Willamette 000 000 0 — 0 4 5
North Medford 013 000 x — 4 3 1
Allen, Woods (4) and Woodcook; King and Robbins. W — King (3-4). L — Allen.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry