Medford held to its path to an unprecedented fifth American Legion AAA baseball state title on Saturday in the first game of the state tournament at Bill Gray Stadium at Legion Field.
The Mustangs got a combined two-hitter from Jacob Melton and Joe Johnson, a web gem from rightfielder Jono Gassman and a critical two-run double from Justin Geyer to defeat Beaverton 2-1. Medford (38-9) advances in the winner’s bracket.
Beaverton will play an elimination game on Sunday at 10 a.m. Medford will play at 4 p.m. today.
“That was a fun one,” Medford coach Nate Mayben said. “You always know the first game of the state tournament is going to be a fun one.
“We had five days off and I knew our bats were just not going to be, that we were going to struggle getting our timing back.”
The Mustangs, who have won five straight at Legion Field since sweep tournament host Dr. Stewart’s to end the regular season, had a difficult time against Beaverton lefthander Kellen O’Connor.
O’Connor carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning before giving up a two-out single to Mustangs catcher Bennett Thompson. Even then, he wiggled out of the inning without any insufferable damage, and the Mustangs were in a spot with Melton nearing the pitch-count threshold.
“They fouled off a lot of pitches,” Melton said. “I didn’t feel my best out there, but we all did a good job on defense of making the outs we could.”
Joe Johnson held Beaverton in the top of the sixth, and the Mustangs exploited Beaverton’s one error in their half of the frame.
Brennan Watts reached first on a throwing error, and Melton came up with a single to put two on with no outs. Jack Thompson put down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position. Leftielder Justin Geyer came up with a two-run double and the Mustangs moved in front.
“It was awesome, scoring those two runs on the clutch hit by Justin was really big,” Melton said. “They had the momentum going into that inning and putting those two runs up just really lifted our backs and gave us a boost there.”
Beaverton got a runner at second on an error with one out. Then Tomoyuki Horie hit a fly toward the gap in shallow right field.
Just before the pitch, Medford’s coaches moved Gassman toward the line in right. That meant the rightfielder had to come hard back across the outfield for the soft liner.
“Both our doubleheaders last week were moved here, so I’m pretty comfortable here now,” said Gassman, who has signed to play baseball at Umpqua Community College. “I knew that kid had been hitting it toward the gap, so I moved over and they moved me over. You can’t argue with the coaches. I saw it floating up there a little bit, so I dove for it and that’s my main way of catching the ball, going to one knee and sliding to come back up with it.”
There was a little more going on than Gassman knew as he went for the ball — Beaverton’s Loggan Davis, in the game as a pinch runner — took off when the ball headed for the gap, looking to score on the play. Gassman saw him running and was prepared to throw home.
“I had no idea he didn’t tag,” Gassman said. “I was coming up to throw him out at home and everyone was yelling ‘2! 2! 2!’ It was really nice having a team right there that was aware of the situation when I was locked in on making the catch right there. My team backed me up.”
“That was a great double play for us, with a runner on second and one out, a lot of times that runner scores,” Melton said. “For that double play to end the game, that was big for us.”
Beaverton 001 000 0 — 1 2 1
Medford 000 002 x — 2 3 2
O’Connor and Lovings; Melton, Johnson (6) and B. Thompson. WP — Johnson. LP — O’Connor. 2B — Geyer (M).
Hitting — Beav. 2-23 (O’Connor 0-2, Fajardo 0-3, Winter 1-3, Ball 0-3, Lovings 0-3, Staley 0-2, Davis 0-0, Horie 1-3, Castiniera 0-2, Patrick 0-2), Med. 3-21 (Johnson 0-3, Watts 0-2, Melton 1-3, J. Thompson 0-1, Geyer 1-3, Gassman 0-2, Baptiste 0-3, Ankeny 0-2, B. Thompson 1-2). RBIs — Beav. 1 (Winter), Med. 2 (Geyer 2).