Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
If you can play, you can play. It's as simple as that for North Medford baseball coach Brett Wolfe.
And one thing is for sure already this season, Black Tornado freshman pitcher Colton Westfall has proven he can play. When you toss a no-hitter in only your second high school start on the mound, that pretty much assures such status.
"He gives us a good chance to win every time he goes out," says Wolfe, in his 18th season at the helm at North Medford.
And at the root of it all, that's really what Westfall hopes to provide for the sixth-ranked Black Tornado (9-2).
"Nothing really bothers him," says Wolfe. "He loves the game and he's really excited to be in the game. He wants to be part of anything that deals with baseball. He likes to compete and he keeps it real simple."
So simple, Westfall's approach sounds more like a pitching to-do list.
"Take three breaths, work outside and inside and hit all your spots," Westfall says of his routine.
However it's broken down, whatever Westfall is doing is most definitely working. He has yet to allow an earned run in 24 innings pitched and sports a 3-0 record. The 15-year-old right-hander has struck out 28 against six walks and eight hits allowed.
And, of course, there's this whole deal about pitching a no-hitter on March 24 in the Southern Oregon Hybrid opener against Grants Pass.
"I didn't even know I threw a no-hitter at first," says Westfall, who stands 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds. "They told me at the last and I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' I just didn't have my mind on a no-hitter, I just wanted to throw."
In that game, Westfall had 12 strikeouts and two walks. Even more impressive, the Black Tornado only eked out a 1-0 win in that game, meaning there really wasn't much room for error for Westfall.
It's that type of composure that has set Westfall apart in his first high school season.
"He's not afraid to participate against older kids," says Wolfe. "He likes the opportunity to compete. He just brings his lunch pail to work just like all our other guys."
Westfall endeared himself to his coach and older teammates during the summer as a member of the American Legion A North Medford Mavericks. That team is essentially the same one North Medford is fielding this spring, and the group has come together to sport one of the more surprising starts in the Rogue Valley given the relative varsity inexperience throughout the lineup.
Besides Westfall, North's pitching rotation has included strong efforts from seniors Bryan Carbonell (3-0, 0.33 ERA) and Charlie Walker (1-1, 3.50 ERA). Offensively, sophomore Micah Brown leads with a .368 batting average, just barely ahead of junior Taylor Raff (.366). Carbonell (.324), junior Hayden Evans (.324) and freshman Jared Evans (.306) are also off to strong starts, with North also swiping 25 stolen bases already this season.
Wolfe says the summer experience and his winter workouts really helped Westfall evolve beyond a raw pitcher to one who can command the strike zone. His velocity is above average, but the real key for Westfall has been his ability to locate all of his pitches.
"He's got a lot of God-given talent that he was born with but he's also starting to understand how to pitch and how to limit your pitches because you don't have to strike everybody out," says Wolfe. "You can pitch to contact to stay in games so your pitch count doesn't get too high."
Westfall says he's appreciated all the help he's gotten from Wolfe as it relates to pitching mechanics and understanding what it takes to be successful on the mound. It's a breakdown Wolfe and company have taken very seriously during his tenure. Tornado pitchers typically show up 45 minutes before their teammates and work out for about 90 minutes before approaching any other defensive or offensive aspects of the game.
"Pitching's the name of the game so we spend a lot of time on it," says the coach. "If you can't throw strikes and change speeds and get hitters out, it's a long game. There's some really good teams that swing the bat and they can put you out on defense for a long time. We've already seen some of that this season."
Which is why, when push comes to shove, Wolfe says there's really no room to not put your best foot forward on a daily basis in terms of who's in the lineup. Given the dwindling size of many baseball programs, it's become even more important these days to look beyond class status.
"More and more coaches have to play their best players and some of those players are freshmen," says Wolfe. "As baseball numbers thin out across the board, we're fortunate to have those types of players in our program."
That goes double when such players have a mindset similar to that of Westfall, who isn't satisfied with just one no-hitter on his pitching resume.
"I want to try to throw another one," he says, "but we'll see what happens."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry