Saturdays will be a little more open these days if you have any interest in following the local Class 6A baseball and softball teams this spring.

Saturdays will be a little more open these days if you have any interest in following the local Class 6A baseball and softball teams this spring.

Thanks to a proposal spearheaded by North Medford baseball coach Brett Wolfe, the 6A Southern Oregon Hybrid setup in both sports will not include doubleheaders on Saturdays. Instead, SOH teams North Medford, South Medford, Crater, Grants Pass and Roseburg will square off with single games on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The proposal received overwhelming support from the conference's baseball coaches when adopted last fall but wasn't nearly as unanimous on the softball side, although it did ultimately gain approval.

The reason behind abandoning doubleheaders involved bringing the Rogue Valley more in line with what the rest of the 6A schools were doing statewide, as well as easing the strain on players, coaches and fans in relation to the time- and energy-consuming twin bills.

Southern Oregon teams have long been the only ones playing doubleheaders at the 6A level, with most leagues preferring to play single games during the week to keep the weekends open. When the Eugene-area teams joined the locals to form the now defunct Southwest Conference in 2006, those involved with the Sheldon and South Eugene programs simply couldn't fathom why anyone would plan a schedule that involved regularly playing on Saturdays.

The Saturday slate has at least been reduced.

"It's something we said we'd try at least for a couple years," North Medford athletic director Tim Sam said Monday. "It's kind of an experiment for us down here."

An experiment that has been a long time coming, according to Wolfe, who noted that ex-Tornado coach Jim McAbee had designs on eliminating doubleheaders during his time with the program but couldn't make it happen due to the traveling concerns that came with having league teams in Klamath Falls and Roseburg.

With Klamath Falls long out of the picture, the Eugene schools no longer involved and those at Roseburg willing to give it a try, Wolfe said everything fell into place. He spent time on the phone with his peers and numerous hours laying out a schedule to see if such a move was possible before coming up with his final proposal.

"Those doubleheaders on Saturday, when you're talking about taking a trip to Eugene, you're loading the bus at 6 in the morning and not getting home until 10 or 11 at night," said Wolfe. "It's a lot of energy to expend and by the time Sunday comes around, you're shot. It's a tough deal. It's an exhausting job for not only the coaches but for the kids, too, who are mentally and physically beat — and that's not even including the increased responsibilities kids have now academically."

While South Medford baseball coach Ray Smith said he didn't have a real problem with the Saturday doubleheaders following single games on Tuesdays, he does view the change as a positive one.

"I like the idea of playing games Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday," said Smith, who led the Panthers to a runner-up showing in last year's state playoffs. "It breaks up our practice routine since every other day is a game day. We don't have the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday lull anymore, and I know the kids will like that, too. They like to play and want to be on the field for games."

Wolfe said he hopes that increased focus will help the players and teams develop and be more in line with the format once the state playoffs begin.

"It's more where you can play and get maximum energy and effort and you get to turn around and play on a more consistent basis," said Wolfe, "and it also simulates that playoff atmosphere a little more. And now if you happen to drop a game, you can work hard and get right after it again instead of having to wait."

With rainouts a regular issue during the spring season, and league rules dictating that rainouts must be played before advancing with the schedule, finding time to fit in one game is a lot easier than two. Another schedule quirk involves the SOH teams playing each other four times instead of three to level the playing field and eliminate any pre-planned home-field advantage.

How teams handle their pitching staffs in such a setup will be intriguing this spring.

"I think it will be interesting to see how it all plays out," said Roseburg baseball coach Troy Thompson. "I think you still need to have three quality pitchers but if you go Tuesday, in a single game that Saturday there's that possibility of seeing that guy again for relief in a one-game situation. I think it's going to change some pitching matchups and how you handle your pitchers, but I'm not sure how much will be affected. It'll be exciting either way, I'm sure."

Wolfe, whose daughter Amanda is a four-year starter for the Black Tornado softball team, said that he understands why such a change doesn't exactly work for the softball squads.

"I don't really like it for softball because those games just go so much faster," he said. "You can play a doubleheader in 21/2 hours, and even that might be considered a long day. I've heard softball people complaining that you're barely getting into a groove before the game is done and that you may only be on the field for 45 minutes before you're driving back. I understand where they're coming from. I wouldn't want to do it, either, just because softball's a much different game."

Sam said another concern would be the economics of more bus trips, but early estimates don't show that to be too much of an issue.

"We kind of sketched it out travel-wise and it's probably pretty close," he said. "At least in the budget, it's a wash."

u

ASHLAND AND EAGLE POINT OPEN their pivotal three-game series today in baseball and softball, and the good news is the Grizzlies and Eagles have a chance to settle things on the field, much like during the football season, instead of potentially through a power rankings waiting game.

When the programs met in volleyball and boys and girls basketball earlier this school year, there was only a home-and-home setup put in place. That left the possibility of a split in the two-game series, which happened in volleyball and boys basketball, and created a situation where the team with the highest power ranking at the end of the season earned the No. 1 seed from the Class 5A Southern Oregon Hybrid and the runner-up entered the play-in games as the runner-up.

While the teams will still only square off on two dates for baseball and softball, the second will stand as a doubleheader and provide a tiebreaking option if necessary. In baseball, Ashland hosts Eagle Point at 4:30 p.m. today and then travels to the EP facility on April 23 for a twin bill. The opposite of those scenarios is true for softball.

Ashland boasts a 5-0 record entering today's baseball tilt with the Eagles (1-3), while the Eagle Point softballers stand 2-3 heading into today's matchup with the Grizzlies (3-2).

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Kris_Henry