Given the number of new faces on each summer team, it's understandable why Ashland coach Royce Miller and North Medford coach Brett Wolfe would speak of how surprising it is to be in their current position.

Given the number of new faces on each summer team, it's understandable why Ashland coach Royce Miller and North Medford coach Brett Wolfe would speak of how surprising it is to be in their current position.

Given the long-standing success of each American Legion A baseball program, the status of the Pilots and Mavericks really isn't that much of a surprise to everyone else.

Ashland and North Medford head to the coast this weekend as perceived favorites to win it all at the state tournament in Coos Bay. The Pilots are the defending state champions, while the Mavericks won the crown in 2006.

Each team, however, enters tournament play under vastly different circumstances.

North Medford used a split against Ashland last week to cinch its third straight Area 4 championship, but lost leading hitter Cody James in the process.

Ashland shrugged off its runner-up finish to dominate North Eugene this past Sunday in a state play-in game, with late addition Max Gordon supplying the bulk of the damage thanks to a 4-for-4, five-RBI showing.

"We're listing, but we're not sinking," says Mavericks coach Brett Wolfe, whose team begins tournament play Friday at 3 p.m. against Wilson High's feeder team Jakes Crawfish.

Besides the loss of James, the Mavericks have been slowed by nagging injuries to Hayden Wolfe, Brady Shipley and Mark Cokenour and a bout of mononucleosis for Stephen Cole.

Still, North Medford boasts a 36-14 record and enough talent and intangibles to potentially make up for the loss of James, who was hitting .477 with 57 RBIs and 29 stolen bases until he tore his meniscus last Thursday.

"We still have a little offense left with some of these young guys," adds coach Wolfe.

In Ashland, a pair of broken ankles sustained over the past month to Luke Baldrica and Kealii Cecil paved the way for the re-emergence of Gordon, who was a key figure in leading Ashland to the Class 5A state title in the spring.

The remainder of the Pilot lineup has been healthy and productive, and not really skipped a beat in the wake of the losses of Baldrica and Cecil, a power-hitting transfer from Hawaii.

"We've played very well since we've lost those two guys," says Miller, whose team is 29-8 and opens play at noon Friday against Roseburg Pepsi. "We'd be much stronger with them, but kids have stepped up and the bunting has improved. I think the kids understand we're going to score in different ways now than we had before and have made the adjustments."

It's because of that transition, as well as a wealth of talent on the roster, that has Wolfe leaning toward the notion that Ashland will be able to defend its summer crown.

"Ashland is going to be the favorite, in my opinion, to win because they're five or six pitchers deep and pretty solid throughout their lineup," says the coach. "And now that they've picked up Max Gordon ... obviously he's a real good player, too."

Also slated to compete in the eight-team tournament are the Grants Pass Miners, Pendleton, the Willoughby Sonics of Franklin and host North Coos.

Grants Pass features several standout players from Hidden Valley, led by Mike Suthann, Dylan Armanino, Clint Sager and Seth Aamatti, while North Coos boasts a combination team of graduated seniors and underclassmen.

Ashland split a pair of doubleheaders already this summer with North Medford and North Coos, while the Mavericks have faced every team except Wilson, Franklin and Pendleton.

"It was nip and tuck all the way those games with North Medford and North Coos," says Miller, "so I'm hoping there aren't better teams there than them because those two gave us all we wanted."

With James sidelined, Hayden Wolfe enters the tourney as the Mavericks' leading hitter with a .459 average to go with 36 RBIs and 33 stolen bases. The left-handed pitcher also is 6-2 on the mound with a 2.52 ERA.

Cokenour is hitting .369 with 41 RBIs and, after a two-year hiatus from the mound, has returned to form to post a 7-0 record and 1.89 ERA.

Coach Wolfe says Shipley has been his team's most pleasant surprise this summer thanks to his all-around play at shortstop and as an offensive and defensive leader. Shipley is hitting .339 with 53 RBIs and is 8-1 with a 2.45 ERA.

Chris Bradshaw (.365, 27 RBIs), Cory Haggans (.381, 25 RBIs) and Cole (.361, 37 RBIs) have also been pivotal in helping the Mavericks turn over their lineup offensively, while Travis Cash has chipped in with a 5-4 record and 2.71 ERA on the mound.

While coach Wolfe was confident his team would come through at the plate, the results from his pitching staff have been an eye-opener, especially considering none of the players pitched for the varsity this past spring.

"I didn't know what to expect from them," he said of his pitching staff. "I knew we were going to work hard and try to strive for excellence, but you don't know what to expect when you don't get a lot of innings in the spring. We worked them in practice, but they didn't get a lot of game experience."

In Ashland, Garrett Tygerson has been the main man for the Pilots this summer. He's hitting .544 with 64 RBIs and seven home runs in the cleanup spot and also boasts a 8-0 pitching record and 1.08 ERA.

"Garrett Tygerson has done a fantastic job," says Miller. "He's just kinda naturally become a leader for this team this summer. Everybody knows when he's on the mound, we just all get a little more comfortable because we know it's all going to be in control with him out there."

Left fielder Ian Kendall (.481, 55 RBIs, 10 HRs, 52 runs) and shortstop Nick Hall (.427, 26 RBIs, 52 runs) have also been instrumental in the Pilot lineup, along with leadoff hitter and utility player Hayden Miller (.526, 29 RBIs, 51 runs).

Luke Stone (8-2, 3.50 ERA) and Brady Thomas (4-2, 3.22 ERA) have also helped add depth to a steady pitching staff.

"We're very fortunate in Ashland right now," says coach Miller. "We have a wave of pitching coming through and they're all very talented."

Gordon, a center fielder and No. 5 hitter for the Pilots, graduated this spring from Ashland High and had been playing on a men's league team this summer to keep in shape before getting the call to duty from Miller.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com