Miller powers Mustangs in opener

·6 min read

Aug. 3—It wasn't so much of a concern heading into the American Legion AAA Northwest Regional, but it was definitely a curiosity for Medford Mustangs manager Nate Mayben on how much his team's hot hitting would carry over from the state tournament.

The Mustangs supplied that answer in short order during Wednesday's opening game of the eight-team regional, using a three-run home run by Jace Miller in the bottom of the first inning to ignite a 12-hit effort in a 9-7 victory over Yakima Valley Pepsi Pak.

Miller later hit a solo home run and Medford was able to ride strong early pitching by Cody Borraggine before holding on in what became a nail-biter in the end at Hladky Memorial Stadium in Gillette, Wyoming.

The Oregon state champion Mustangs advanced to play the winner of Wednesday's late game between host Gillette and the Billings Royals of Montana. Game time for that winners bracket contest will be 6 p.m. (Pacific) on Thursday.

"Getting that first win is nice and obviously just settles you down and you're not back up against the wall on Day 2," said Mayben, whose team is making its first Northwest Regional appearance in three years. "You know now you've got at least two more games to work with so it's a good way to start. And it was nice to get one from (Yakima Valley), they've gotten a few from us over the years."

Akin to how the Mustangs (38-7) were able to storm through the state tournament in unbeaten fashion, Medford used early offense to take control of Wednesday's game against the Washington state champions.

After Borraggine sent Yakima Valley (38-7) down in order in the top of the first, he was able to drop down a perfect bunt for a single to kick-start Medford's attack against Pak ace Steven Johnson and Tanner Douglas later followed with a one-out single to right-center.

That brought Miller to the plate, and Medford's leading hitter did not disappoint with full extension on a drive over the fence in left-center for a quick 3-0 advantage.

"Getting that three-run home run, that was nice to be able to breathe a little bit there early on and settle Borraggine in," said Mayben. "Jace has just been on fire, man, for a long time. He hit that ball hard."

Miller, who entered the regional batting .511 with 52 RBIs, also turned on a 2-1 pitch by Johnson in the fifth inning for another homer down the left field line to give his team a 7-2 edge. The South Medford High product and recent University of Portland signee finished 2-for-4 with two runs and four RBIs.

For his part, Borraggine allowed five hits with five strikeouts and two walks in 4 2/3 innings before exiting after 78 pitches with a 6-2 lead. The former North Medford High standout will still be available should the Mustangs reach the championship day on Sunday in accordance with pitch-count limitations.

"Cody was Cody," said Mayben of the left-hander. "He did a great job, that's just what he does when he goes out there. Obviously we wanted to start him in the first game because of his consistency, and then he just goes out and does what he does."

A two-out double by Aiden Horsley plated Cameron Sewell in the third and Horsley later came in to score on a throwing error by Yakima Valley third baseman Derek Wolff to build a 5-0 lead.

Yakima Valley, which beat Medford to open the 2018 Northwest Regional, scored a pair of runs on a single by Cade Gibson that just got beyond second baseman Johnny King into right field to narrow the gap in the top of the fourth.

That's when the bottom portion of Medford's batting order stepped up in a big way, with Frankie Rutigliano doing a good job of staying back before driving a ball into center field. On the next pitch, King sent another single through the hole on the left side of the infield and both runners were moved into scoring position following a sacrifice bunt by Borraggine.

An RBI groundout by Sewell later and Medford was able to answer the Pak with a run — a standard that would prove crucial in the end. The Mustangs scored in the next half-inning after Yakima Valley produced runs in every at-bat before not needing to do so in the bottom of the seventh.

"We kept answering and that was huge," said Mayben. "It was just a good job of adding each inning. We had really good plate appearances by our guys and good approaches. We were wondering where our bats would be after a week off but we picked up right where we left off."

Yakima Valley had won 11 straight games entering Wednesday's contest — outscoring its five opponents 58-11 to claim a fourth state title since 2017 and eighth overall — and wasn't willing to see that come to an end without a fight.

The Pak tallied two more runs in the top of the sixth to make it 7-4, but Medford again answered in the bottom of the frame when Douglas singled up the middle to drive in Borraggine and Sewell with one out.

"That turned out to be huge," Mayben said of the hot comebacker that barely nicked relief pitcher Luke Jenkins. "You never know in these games. This is a hitter's ballpark, you can tell with the thin air, so you've just gotta keep adding because you never know."

Yakima Valley used RBI efforts by Gibson, John Sullivan and Drew Johnson in the top of the seventh to make things a little more interesting than the Mustangs would have liked, but Sewell was able to generate a game-ending groundout to Miller to escape further damage.

Douglas finished 2-for-4 with one run and two RBIs, Horsley was 2-for-3 with one run and one RBI and King 2-for-3 to pace Medford.

Drew Johnson and Goodrich each had three hits for Yakima Valley, and Gibson was 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

Sewell had to be called upon in relief in the sixth inning and eclipsed the 30-pitch plateau to be able to return the following day, so he won't be available to pitch until Friday.

"It would've been nice to keep him under 30," said Mayben, "but it really doesn't mess up any plans pitching-wise. Now he just has to take tomorrow off and he can come back. And (relief pitcher) Beau Aldrich didn't get over 30 so can come back tomorrow. We're still in a good spot pitching-wise going into Day 2."

Yakima Valley Pepsi Pak0002023—7121

Medford Mustangs302112x—9121

S. Johnson, Jenkins (6) and Chapman; Borraggine, Aldrich (5), Sewell (6) and Robbins. W — Borraggine (6-2). L — Johnson. 2B — YV: Goodrich; M: Horsley, Robbins, King. HR — M: Miller 2.

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