Mustangs stay hot, blitz Montana champs at AAA regionals

EUGENE — The Medford Mustangs kept taking the lead, the Missoula Mavericks kept taking it away, and back and forth they fought, until the Oregon champions finally put a five-spot on the board in the top of the eighth inning and prevailed, 12-7, in the Northwest Regional American Legion AAA baseball tournament Friday at Swede Johnson Stadium.

With the wind blowing out, the game featured three home runs, in a ballpark that doesn't surrender them easily. When it was over, the Mavericks had used six pitchers, and the teams had scored 19 runs on 21 hits in a game that lasted two hours and 47 minutes.

With the win, the Mustangs (34-14) advance to play the winner of the Friday night game between the Eugene Challengers and the Yakima Valley Pepsi Pak of Washington state at about 7:30 p.m. today. The Mavericks (53-23) play an elimination game against Waipahu at noon.

"What a ballgame," said Medford coach Nate Mayben. "Crazy. It was a crazy ballgame. Both teams played very well, I thought. They were smashing the baseball, I thought we were smashing the baseball. ... That's a good ballclub, man, and we're happy to get out of there with a W.

"Both teams hit the baseball really hard today, and it wasn't bad pitching. There's good hitters on both sides."

The game was tied at 7-7 when the Mustangs broke the game open in the eighth against Missoula closer Shane Olson, the slugger-pitcher who is bound for the University of Washington.

Left-fielder Jimmy Sporer reached on an infield hit to start the rally, Christian Gillis walked and Taylor Raff was safe when his sacrifice bunt went for an error. Catcher Austin Zavala, who an inning earlier had scored to give Medford another temporary lead, singled to drive in Sporer and Gillis, Bryce Rogan beat out a bunt to load the bases and the ever-tough Micah Brown greeted reliever Travis Zander with a two-run single to left. Before it was over, the Mustangs had tacked on another run and sent 10 batters to the plate.

"Micah is seeing the ball really well right now, he's crushing the baseball," Maybe said. "Whenever he gets up, it's nice having guys on base. Zavala and Bryce Rogan are doing a nice job of getting on base in front of him. The bottom of our order really helped us out, and the we did a good job in not letting the bottom of their order do much, and I think that was the difference in the game."

For Medford, Zavala was 3-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs; Brown had two hits and drove in four runs, and Rogan was 2-for-3 with three RBI and a homer. The winning pitcher was Isaiah Luzny, who allowed an unearned run in four innings in relief of ace Colton Westfall, who gave up six runs.

"Colton came out early in the game and he had his closer mentality and he was going 110 percent, and he was leaving the ball up and they were making him pay, big-time," Maybe said. "Luzny did a great job of coming in there and settling things down."

The Mustangs took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first against Missoula lefty Austin Bohnsack, who didn't survive the inning; he hit lead-off batter Gillis and walked Raff and Zavala to load the bases with none out. That brought on Ryan Anderson, who surrendered sacrifice flies to Rogan and Brown — on a sensational catch by Josh Meader in right field.

Missoula came right back in the bottom of the first against Westfall, taking a 3-2 lead. Slade Heggen led off with an infield hit, the first of his four hits in the game, and was sacrificed to second by Tanner Rheinschmidt. Shane Olson singled to left to move Heggen to third, and Jesson Preston followed with a bloop single to right to score Heggen. Meader then tripled to the wall in right to score Olson and Preston.

Medford got the lead back in the third, when Zavala fisted a single to left-center and Rogan followed with a prodigious home run to right, high off the light pole, for a 4-3 Medford advantage.

That lead lasted just long enough for Olson to hit an equally prodigious home run, over the Valley River Inn sign in deep left-center, to tie the game 4-4 in the bottom of the inning.

Back came Medford, taking the lead again with another home run, this a solo shot to left by third baseman Josh Berman to lead off the top of the fourth and give the Mustangs the lead back, 5-4.

But the lead wouldn't last. In the bottom of the fifth, Heggen reached on an infield single, advanced to third on a sacrifice and infield out and scored on Preston's triple to left center to tie the game. A single by Meader plated Preston and Missoula led 6-5.

Medford tied the score 6-6 in the top of the sixth and nearly got a lot more. With one out, David Crofton reached on a throwing error, moved to second on a walk to Berman. Jared Evans singled to score Crofton and move Berman to second, and the runners advanced on a sacrifice by Sporer. Gillis walked to load the bases, which Raff would have cleared, except his liner down the left-field line was ruled foul, and then Raff was called out on strikes, both calls disputed by Medford.

The Mustangs took the lead again in the top of the seventh, 7-6. Anderson started the inning for Missoula, threw two balls to Zavala and was replaced by Josh Harrington, who completed the walk, walked Rogan and left with a shoulder injury. Olson, the Missoula closer, moved to the mound from first base and surrendered a single to Brown that scored Zavala before escaping without further damage.

Missoula tied the score at 7-7 in the bottom of the seventh. Against Luzny, who relieved Westfall in the sixth, Heggen singled, advanced to second on Rheinschmidt's third sacrifice bunt of the game, stole third and scored when Zavala's throw skipped into left field.

That set the stage for the Medford rally in the top of the eighth.

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