Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Few people think less of the state's power rankings, at least until the final few weeks of a season, than I do. Still, that doesn't mean there aren't interesting trends every now and then.
Southern Oregon Hybrid baseball coaches annually talk about their league being one of the toughest — if not THE toughest — in the state, and the Class 6A power rankings certainly support that early on.
Last week, North Medford and South Medford spent time atop the constantly evolving RPI system and, entering Monday's games, all five SOH teams were ranked among the top nine on the 42-team list. The teams have combined to go 37-5.
"I think truly what that shows is we've got a pretty good conference from top to bottom," said South Medford head coach Ray Smith. "I truly believe that all the teams are pretty close. Obviously there are some teams that are a little more talented and experienced with playing together, but we play some pretty good baseball here in southern Oregon."
Thurston (4-2) overtook North Medford and South Medford over the weekend for the No. 1 spot in the power rankings with a 760.30 RPI, but the Black Tornado (8-1, 738.15) and Panthers (8-0, 716.40) aren't far off in the next two spots.
SOH defending champion Roseburg (8-1, 669.87) stands fourth, followed by Sheldon (6-1, 668.20), Clackamas (8-0, 662.63) and South Salem (6-2, 606.11). SOH teams Grants Pass (7-2, 600.78) and Crater (6-1, 600.05) stand eighth and ninth, respectively.
"Right now I don't believe they're relevant to where we're at at this time of the season," Smith said of the early rankings, "but we just have a competitive league. It's been that way and we've had to fight and scrap for everything we've gotten for the four years since I've been here as varsity coach and before that."
Preseason favorite North Medford has proven its abilities against teams from outside Oregon, going 4-1 on last week's trip to Arizona, and the dangerous Comets will strive to similarly show their abilities in San Jose, Calif., this week.
The biggest surprise has to be Smith's bunch at South Medford, which was picked to finish last in a preseason SOH coaches' poll but joins Clackamas as the only undefeated 6A teams. Only eight teams in all the classifications had yet to suffer a defeat entering Monday's games.
The Panthers have matched win total of last season, when they were 8-16.
"We've got some kids that are swinging the bats really well and that's why we are where we're at," said Smith, noting his team will certainly be tested today against Class 5A Ashland. "Our pitching has really been pretty good, too. Really what it's come down to is our kids are competing and we're making the plays that we needed to."
Joe Cooney, Caleb Newman and Brandon Lupton have helped stabilize the pitching rotation.
Offensively, Jimmy Sporer is hitting .577 in the leadoff spot with 12 stolen bases and 16 runs scored in eight games. Pat Alexander is hitting .286 with 15 RBIs and Nate Walker is at .440 with seven doubles and nine RBIs for the Panthers, who are hitting .394 as a team and have outscored their opponents 88-29.
"We're nowhere where we need to be but hopefully we'll get to where we want to be," said Smith.
As good of a start as it has been for the entire SOH, that only means each team will have to lace their cleats up that much tighter beginning next Tuesday, when the conference season opens.
"Now going into the league season we'll truly find out where we fit in," said Smith. "They're all talented teams, and look what happened last year with Crater. They were picked to finish last and they went on to take second."
"Baseball's a funny game at times," added the coach. "You just kinda have to go out there and play game to game and day to day and we'll see where South Medford winds up in the end. I'm pretty happy with the accomplishments our kids have made to this point, but we're going to have to get out there and get after them and play the best baseball we can play and see where that takes us."
Smith said another potential reason for the good start by most all the local teams is in the good weather the Rogue Valley has seen leading up to the spring season. Last year, practice days — and even games — were few and far between for the first month of the season, but that's not been the case this year. In fact, Smith said the weekend rain leading up to his team's practice Monday has been the only issue thus far in its schedule.
"We haven't missed a practice and haven't had any type of true issues with the weather as we have in the past and that's a big part of it for us," he said. "To be able to practice a little bit more in the early going really has been important."
DESPITE DEDICATED efforts by the athletic directors at North Medford and Ashland high schools on behalf of the southern Oregon area, the Oregon School Activities Association appears set on continuing the current six classification system.
North Medford's Tim Sam and Ashland's Karl Kemper spoke to the OSAA's Classification and Districting Committee recently and asked the group to reconsider the benefits of a potential five-classification system. Despite their pleas during a gathering two weeks ago, the OSAA committee let it be known that they have maintained a consensus to recommend a six-classification system.
The committee has also reached a consensus that adjusted average daily membership (ADM) figures will be used when classifying public and private schools, and any school's petition to play down must use more quantifiable data when doing so, including combined RPI standings in a three-year span, as well as winning percentages, and free/reduced price lunch statistics. If a school meets all the criteria, its request to play down would be granted, while anything short of that would be up for review.
In the most recent draft for reclassification, and we all know that's OSAA code for "We want this," it appears that only the local 6A and 5A schools will have vastly different setups than they currently do.
In the committee's latest draft proposal, there are two options for 6A leagues but the 5A to 1A piece of the puzzle is clearly defined
The 4A Skyline Conference is exactly the same, while the 3A Southern Oregon League is made up of Cascade Christian, St. Mary's, Rogue River, Illinois Valley, Glide, Lakeview and South Umpqua.
The 5A Midwestern League would have Crater, Ashland and Eagle Point, as well as Churchill, Marist, North Eugene, Springfield and Thurston.
The 6A options for the 44 schools involve using five conferences overall (option A) or six conferences to create more similarly sized groupings (option B). The Southern Oregon Conference is the same in both and consists of North Medford, South Medford, Grants Pass, Roseburg, Sheldon, South Eugene and Willamette.
The next public meeting of the Classification and Districting Committee will be next Monday at the Holiday Inn in Wilsonville, and follows the Delegate Assembly meeting. The committee will meet throughout this school year and will make its final recommendations in October for the 2014-18 time block to the OSAA Executive Board.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry