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MailTribune.com
  • AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL

    Comets aim to repeat as state tourney begins

    American Legion A event features Central Point, North Medford, South Medford
  • The names may have changed but the summertime results have certainly remained the same recently for the Central Point Comets.
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    • LEGION A STATE TOURNAMENT
      WHEN, WHERE: Today-Sunday, Harry & David Field in Medford.
      • TODAY'S OPENERS: North Medford Mavericks vs. Jake's Crawfish, 9:30 a.m.; Central Point Comets vs. Roseburg Pepsi, 12:30 p.m.; N...
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      LEGION A STATE TOURNAMENT
      WHEN, WHERE: Today-Sunday, Harry & David Field in Medford.

      • TODAY'S OPENERS: North Medford Mavericks vs. Jake's Crawfish, 9:30 a.m.; Central Point Comets vs. Roseburg Pepsi, 12:30 p.m.; North Coos Waterfront vs. Salem Senators, 4:30 p.m.; South Medford Colts vs. La Grande Legends, 7:30 p.m.
      • TICKETS: $20 for tournament pass or $6 per day. No outside food/drinks allowed.
  • The names may have changed but the summertime results have certainly remained the same recently for the Central Point Comets.
    Guided by Crater High head coach Jay Campbell, the Comets recently wrapped up their third straight Area 4 title in American Legion A baseball and, as defending champion, enter this week's state tournament as one of the favorites in a diverse field set to play at Harry & David Field.
    "We've been able to have a good showing at this tournament in the past," said Campbell, whose team went on to win the Northwest Regionals as well last year. "I think it's the same thing for us now, the kids just expect for us to be successful and I think that's what's led to a lot of our success this summer."
    State tournament play begins this morning when the North Medford Mavericks take on Jake's Crawfish of Portland at 9:30, and will continue through the championship game on Sunday.
    Central Point (27-10) will try to take its first step toward a third straight appearance in the championship final when it takes on Roseburg Pepsi at 12:30 p.m., although Campbell cautions that making much of past history is tough at the A level because rosters are almost entirely turned over each summer.
    "I have so many new guys — we lost 10 guys off that team last year — and even though I have five or six kids that made the trip to Wyoming (for last year's Northwest Regionals), it's a pretty new group," he said. "We just have a totally different look, especially offensively. We're not near as dangerous as we were last year probably so we just have to play the game a little different and be able to manufacture runs and hit with runners in scoring position and play some defense. If we're able to do those things, we should be successful."
    Key to Central Point's success has been a pitching rotation that remains largely intact from last summer's championship run, save for Ty Fox. Dylan Pearce has been the team leader on the bump, posting a 4-0 record in five starts where he's allowed only seven earned runs overall. The senior-to-be has struck out 44 in 33 innings and is a two-time all-conference selection in the talent-rich Southern Oregon Hybrid.
    "He's been dominant when he's been on the mound," said Campbell, whose team finished one game ahead of North Medford at 12-4 in the Area 4 standings. "When he throws strikes, he's tough to beat. His velocity has gone up this summer and he's able to throw the breaking ball for strikes."
    Pearce also doubles as shortstop for the Comets and is batting .312 with 15 runs and 14 RBIs.
    Brady Roland (4-2), Caine Smith (4-1) and Neil Bastendorff (3-3) have provided solid depth on the mound, with the oft-injured Gunnar Asher feeling much better heading into the state tournament after battling tightness in his back. Asher is 3-0 in relief for the Comets and earned a pair of pitching victories at last year's Northwest Regionals.
    Offensively, Dylan Morgan has been a sparkplug all summer with a team-best .469 batting average to go with 18 runs and 15 RBIs. With Pearce, Cavin Gillispie (.387, 21 runs, 14 RBIs), Caine Smith (.290, 15 runs, 16 RBIs) and Avery Martin (.303) pitching in, the Comets have been able to turn over the lineup and create consistent scoring chances.
    Central Point and Roseburg Pepsi split four games this season, with the Comets most recently taking a pair from Roseburg.
    North Medford (23-19) faces a less familiar opponent to open in Jake's Crawfish of Portland, which is the feeder team for Wilson High. The Mavericks last won a state tournament title in 2012 and have a good — but young — nucleus this time around.
    "I like our chances and opportunity because we've put in a good summer and our kids have gained a lot of experience this summer," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe. "If we can keep teams to three outs an inning and have quality at-bats and put quality innings together, I think we can compete with anybody."
    Second baseman Tate Cowden is the only Maverick with regular varsity experience at the high school level, and Wolfe said Cowden has done well to take hold of a leadership role this summer. Seniors-to-be Josh Berman and Jordan Ragan are dual rostered with the Legion AAA Medford Mustangs but do not come available for the Mavericks unless the Mustangs' run at the state tournament in Grants Pass ends.
    Kasey Buchanan, Greyson Wolff, Mason Barone, Larson Kindreich, Marcus Brammel, Dakota Adams, Honus Kindreich and Preston Johnson have played vital roles in the field and at the plate for the Mavericks. Berry Hunt has served a vital role as the team's chief relief pitcher and closer, with Larson Kindreich slated to get the start today as a promising 6-foot-1 incoming freshman.
    The South Medford Colts (21-22) are the host team for the tournament and open with another potential title contender at 7:30 p.m. in the La Grande Legends, who boast the most experienced squad with a handful of players that have already graduated from high school.
    South Medford has been led by versatile performer Ryan Carle, who expects to pitch tonight and is a lead table-setter for the offense, and Eric Wallan, the Colts' only high school graduate. The Colts took a hit recently, however, when starting shortstop and No. 3 hitter Cole Carder suffered a sprained knee and will be out for the tourney.
    "We just have to go in and play it one game at a time, that's our focus," said South Medford head coach Ray Smith. "We're not looking to Thursday or Friday, really we're looking one inning at a time and trying to play the best we can against some of the best clubs in the state and see if we can hang with them."
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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