Medford Rogues relish summer grind
Pulling off a full-season schedule in this day and age isn’t as easy as it used to be, and those involved with the Medford Rogues were understandably taking a few sighs of relief even into Tuesday.
The collegiate wood-bat baseball franchise’s ninth summer season wrapped up over the weekend and, by all accounts, proved to be a successful venture with a 33-11 record and no COVID-19 outbreaks to alter the Rogues’ path.
“Overall it went very good and very smooth,” said Rogues general manager Dave May. “I couldn’t be happier with the on-field product, that was fantastic. Off the field — I say this pretty much at the end of every year — but we survived, and now we’re looking forward to 2022 and starting the planning process already for 2022.”
In his second year as Rogues manager, Bill Rowe spoke more about his team’s characteristics off the field and in the professionalism shown to make it through such a challenging schedule.
“I was really happy with our team,” he said.
“Obviously anytime you’re playing that aggressive of a schedule you’re just really hoping to make it through as healthy as possible. I’m proud of our guys for being able to get through such an incredible routine — on a day to day basis in really hardcore weather a lot of times — and just staying safe and staying hydrated and getting better each day.”
A 21-3 start to this past season set a new franchise record for best start to a season, topping a 20-3 start by the 2019 team. While there were a handful of blowout victories, the Rogues kept things lively with more than their share of games decided in the last two innings or so.
“We just found a lot of different ways to win throughout the season,” said Rowe. “You always are going to go through ups and downs, because that’s baseball. Sometimes you’re going to beat teams better than you, and sometimes you’re going to lose to teams that are worse than you, that’s just the way it goes. You just try to minimize those abnormalities as much as you can.”
“And we had something like four walk-off wins at home? That was really exciting,” added the former Oregon State player and assistant coach. “I was happy for the guys to get to celebrate like that and obviously it’s great for the fans anytime you can have that many come-from-behind victories at home.”
May said he definitely appreciated the determination of this year’s group of players, especially given the relative youthful nature of the team.
“They were just grinders,” said May. “We had a lot of incoming freshmen to big-time colleges that got their first taste of college baseball, and then you sprinkle in the veterans like Omar Ortiz, who has been here for a few summers and could kind of lead by example. It was a really good mix of guys that coaches Rowe, (Parker) Berberet and (Braden) Wells put together for this summer.”
“I’m sad to see them all go home, honestly,” added the GM. “It always kind of creeps up on you because it’s such a grind all summer, with 36 home games in 52 days. It’s just flying by and then all of a sudden it’s like, wait, where’s everybody going? We’re preparing for next year but we already miss everybody from this last year. Hopefully we get a bunch of those guys back.”
Medford’s unquestionable leader at the plate proved to be infielder/outfielder Jake Gentry, a junior for Cal State Fullerton. Gentry announced his presence with authority with a walk-off home run in the Rogues’ season opener and didn’t let up, batting .409 with 45 runs and 44 RBIs.
Austin Smith, a UC San Diego incoming freshman, joined Medford a couple weeks into the season but still managed to hit .415 with 22 runs and 17 RBIs.
Outfielder Ruben Cedillo, a Linn-Benton CC sophomore, was another key contributor after posting 38 runs, 36 RBIs and tying Gentry for team-high honors with four home runs apiece. Cedillo hit .311.
Ortiz, in his third summer in Medford, helped set the tone with a .376 batting average to go with 26 runs and 36 RBIs, along with returning Rogues players Drew Steelhammer (.348, 13 runs, 23 RBIs in 16 games), Jason Dumont (.284, 32 runs, 17 RBIs) and Emiliano Alarcon (.261, 17 runs, 18 RBIs).
Among the newcomers, UC San Diego freshman shortstop Noah Sudyka (.260, 30 runs, 14 RBIs) was a leading spark in the field and at the plate.
“Noah Sudyka was just an incredible defensive shortstop and that was such an awesome element to have,” said Rowe. “You just wouldn’t believe how many plays this guy can make, and it changed the direction of so many of our games. I’ve never really seen one defensive player make such a difference in the direction of a game but he really had that ability at shortstop.”
Also making strong Rogues debuts were Mike LaVigne (.315, 33 runs, 13 RBIs), Grant Sherrod (.318, 21 runs, 16 RBIs), Josh Williams (.360, 15 runs, 12 RBIs in 15 games) and Jesse Brown (.269, 18 runs, 24 RBIs).
All told, 13 Rogues players reached double figures in RBIs and 15 scored double-digit runs for a team that posted a .310 overall batting average.
“We had a lot of really young, promising talent on our team,” said Rowe, “and I think that’s one of the directions we’re going to continue to go is to ask schools for their incoming standout recruits who are ready to step up and play at the college level already. The college coaches really like them getting that exposure early on and they’re really hungry to learn more about the next level of baseball, and that’s what we provide for them here.”
“I’m hoping that since we have these kids as an incoming freshman,” he added, “then that means we’re going to be more prone to getting them again next season after they’ve been at college for a year. Getting guys like Austin Smith and Noah Sudyka back would just be such a huge boost to the roster right away.”
The same can be said for a pitching staff that was almost entirely built with incoming freshmen or players in their first year or so of college.
Left-hander Josh Sandoval paved the way for the pitchers by going 4-1 with a 2.50 ERA in 39 2/3 innings this summer, while returner Griffin Henry (2-1, 4.95 ERA) logged the second-most innings at 36 1/3 to go with a 3-to-1 ratio in strikeouts to walks. Henry led the team in strikeouts for a second straight summer with 39.
Oregon State’s Ryan Brown (2-0, 1.73 ERA) and Van Larson (3-2, 3.27 ERA) also supplied prominent efforts for the Rogues, along with UC Santa Barbara’s Matt Ager (2-1, 5.40 ERA).
Skyler Gaudern, Camden Stephens, Tyler Tilton and Kadin Miller each won three games for a Medford mound crew that spread out the workload.
At one point, former Crater High standout Jacob Memmott went seven straight relief appearances — 11 innings overall — without allowing an earned run for the Rogues. Jack Erickson led Medford with four saves.
“We had a lot of really good contributions,” said Rowe. “More than anything, though, I think we really formed a tight group and that’s what I really love to see as a coach: a lot of different guys who don’t know each other but come together for two months and really create kind of a special bond with each other. That’s what summer ball is all about in my opinion.”
Medford will continue to compete as part of the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League (GSCBL) in 2022, but May and Rowe said they each plan to continue to try and dot the schedule with dates against top teams they’ve developed a history with over the years like the Lincoln Potters, Bend Elks and Corvallis Knights.
“We’re in the GSCBL, but that still gives 18-20 nonleague games to allow us to schedule those teams and play with some other really high-level competition,” said May. “I think our players and coaches enjoy it, and I know I do, too, when we have that kind of flexibility.”
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