Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
The second-seeded North Medford baseball team looks to advance to the Class 6A championship for the first time since 2007 when it hosts third-seeded Tualatin in the semifinals today.
The contest is set for 4:30 p.m. at North Medford High.
In other baseball action, Cascade Christian welcomes Horizon Christian to U.S. Cellular Community Park for a 3A semifinal game at 4 p.m.
The state title contests are Saturday at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.
Either right-handed junior Colton Westfall (11-2) or junior left-hander Jordan Ragan (4-1) will start on the mound, North head coach Brett Wolfe said. The Black Tornado's pitching starters are 23-3 this season.
Westfall owns a 1.70 ERA with a team-high 81 strikeouts in 70 innings pitched. Ragan has the club's best ERA (1.39).
North (25-4), which finished second in the Southern Oregon Hybrid, has won 11 straight and is making its first appearance in the semifinals since 2008, when it lost to Tigard.
The Black Tornado captured the state title in 2007.
The Timberwolves (24-5) last faced the Black Tornado in 2009, when they won a tight second-round playoff game, 1-0. Tualatin claimed the Pacific Conference this spring.
In North's 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Lake Oswego last Friday, David Crofton limited the Lakers to three hits.
In Tualatin's 9-2 quarterfinal win over McMinnville, 6-foot-5 junior Oregon commit Jacob Bennett threw a five-hitter with seven strikeouts and four walks. He was 2-for-4 with an RBI at the plate.
Tualatin's Karter Cook struck out nine batters in a 4-3 second-round playoff win over Lincoln. He pitched all seven innings despite suffering through back spasms.
"They play sound defense and have a couple of good kids on the mound," Wolfe said. "I know they hit really well."
Both squads played in the Coach Bob National Invitational in Arizona in March, with the Black Tornado going 4-1 and the Timberwolves 3-1. Getting timely hits with runners in scoring position and limiting Tualatin offensively will be key, Wolfe said. North senior shortstop Micah Brown has a team-best .471 batting average, 41 hits, 30 RBIs and 34 runs scored. Jordan Pond (.425) and Josh Berman (.364) have also been steady at the plate.
"We've had a good week of practice," Wolfe said. "A lot of these kids have been around for a while and have won a lot of ballgames."
The other 6A semifinal pits No. 29 Hillsboro against No. 8 Sheldon, the defending state champion.
Horizon Christianat Cascade Christian
Second-seeded Cascade Christian's opponent should look familiar.
No. 3 Horizon Christian (25-4) of Tualatin beat the Challengers, 6-5 and 10-0, in a nonleague doubleheader on April 12.
Both squads have built up plenty of momentum heading into their third and most important meeting of the year.
Southern Cascade Hybrid champion Cascade Christian (22-5) has won 17 of its last 18, while the Hawks are riding a 23-game winning streak.
"When we played them up there, they did a good job of capitalizing on our mistakes," Cascade Christian head coach Nate Mayben said. "We can't make mistakes against them."
Cody Coggins (10-1) will get the start today for the Challengers, who defeated SCH rival St. Mary's, 10-2, in the quarterfinals. He owns a 0.90 ERA with a team-best 109 strikeouts. Coggins, who leads the team in RBIs (33), is one of several members of the club who played on the 2012 state championship squad.
Cooper Clark has a team-best 38 hits and 36 runs scored.
West Valley League champion Horizon Christian, last year's state runner-up, lost four of its first six games to start a difficult 2014 schedule, including a game against North Medford.
"One through nine, they are a good team," Mayben said. "They are a veteran team. The last few games they've played down early but have come back, so you know they have experience."
Cascade Christian is excited about getting another shot at the Hawks, Mayben added.
"It puts a little bitter taste in your mouth," he said. "When you get to play the team that did that to you, it's always fun. But what our guys are doing well is they know who they are. We can't control what (Horizon Christian) does. I'm really impressed with this group of guys. They are loose and relaxed."
In the other 3A semifinal, No. 1 Valley Catholic will take on No. 4 Glide. Glide beat Cascade Christian, 1-0, on May 19.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt