Known for his dynamic defense and steady offense, Zack Earle dialed it up a notch Tuesday night for the Medford Mustangs.
GRANTS PASS — Known for his dynamic defense and steady offense, Zack Earle dialed it up a notch Tuesday night for the Medford Mustangs.
Looking to close out the Grants Pass Nuggets in a best-of-three Area 4 baseball playoff, Earle came through time and again for the Mustangs in a 12-5 triumph at Agnew-Lytle Field.
The biggest change is how Earle was able to make it happen.
Predominantly a gap hitter during his standout days at North Medford High, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound shortstop showed off some newfound muscle — much to the chagrin of the Grants Pass faithful.
Earle got the Mustangs off to a hot start with a two-run home run to deep left-center field off GP starter Ryan Hayden in the first inning, added RBI singles in the fifth and seventh and then closed his night just as it began with another two-run homer.
All told, Earle finished 4-for-5 with two runs scored and a season-high six RBIs.
"Yesterday I really struggled at the plate going 0-for-4 so I went and did some extra (batting practice) before the game today and got ready to go for sure," said Earle. "I finally felt confident at the plate and obviously it showed. When I got that first home run, I just kept going from there."
Earle's onslaught, as well as solid outings from Max Gordon and Matt Maurer, allowed Medford (36-8) to sweep the series against GP. The Mustangs beat the Nuggets 11-0 in seven innings Monday.
Gordon was 3-for-6 with two runs and one RBI to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, while Maurer was 3-for-4 with three runs and one RBI.
The Mustangs will now get a few days to rest and prepare for the American Legion AAA state tournament, which begins July 29 in Corvallis.
Earle's homers were his fifth and sixth of the summer, and appear to be a continuing product of a breakout campaign this past spring at Oregon Tech. With the Owls, Earle belted nine homers to rank second on the team and hit .323 with 43 RBIs.
"Something changed in my swing and I have more pop this year, obviously," he said, adding that he's certainly not looking to go yard each time he steps into the box. "I was just looking to come through for the team in those situations and give us some extra runs for the later innings."
Mustangs manager Sandee Kensinger said a key to Earle's success throughout the summer has been his ability to take the same attitude to each at-bat and inning on defense, regardless of his successes or failures.
"He's a solid kid and a real good player," said Kensinger.
And certainly capable of even greater numbers when it comes to round-trippers.
"He's got that great trajectory," Kensinger added, "he'd have at least five or six more home runs if he played in a park like this or in Kiger (Stadium) instead of our park (Harry & David Field)."
Earle's first-inning homer followed a leadoff single by Gordon and staked Medford to a 2-0 lead, but the Mustangs weren't quite done against Hayden. Garrett Tygerson was hit by a pitch and Ian Kendall singled to maintain momentum. After Griff Boyd sent a liner to center field, Maurer laced a liner to right field that scored Tygerson and Kendall was able to score as well when the ball got past Craig Kathol.
With Hayden largely ineffective, Nuggets manager Travis Osborne was forced to make a move and turned to Jordan Decker to quiet the surge. The left-hander did the job by getting Isaac Rolie to hit a pop up to first base, but Hayden failed to secure the ball and the fifth run of the inning scored on the error. Hayden got a second chance moments later on another pop-up and made the catch.
"We wanted to get out and fast and not let up, so that was big for us," Kensinger said of scoring five runs and batting the entire lineup.
Hayden was able to gain a measure of redemption in the bottom of the first, taking the first pitch he saw from Mustangs starter Neil Emerson over the center field wall for a two-out, two-run homer. Zach Morgan had previously reached base on a throwing error by second baseman Chris Bradshaw after he ranged right for a grounder.
Decker held Medford to a total of two hits through the second and third innings, giving the Nuggets a chance to sneak back into the game.
Grants Pass tallied one run in the third after inning-opening singles by Keith Suits and Ryan Miller and an RBI groundout by Brandon Drury.
Medford finally got something going against Decker in the fourth after Gordon and Bradshaw earned one-out singles. Earle then walked to load the bases and another walk to Tygerson made the score 6-3. Decker was able to escape further damage, however, by inducing Kendall into a double play to end the inning.
Medford Mustangs 500 120 112 — 12 15 5
Grants Pass Nuggets 201 000 011 — 5 6 4
Emerson, Shipley (7), Maurer (9) and L. Sebrell, Sowers (7); Hayden, Decker (1), Kathol (7) and Sager. W — Emerson (7-0). L — Hayden. 2B — M: Maurer, GP: Hayden, Kathol. 3B — M: Sowers. HR — M: Earle 2 (6); GP: Hayden.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail email@example.com