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DeClerck flirts with the .700 club

After a cool start to his senior season, North Medford High baseball player Steve DeClerck has begun to sizzle.

North's third baseman, who's bound for the University of Washington, saw his Southern Oregon Conference batting average soar to .720 last week.

But a 4-for-8 performance in last Saturday's doubleheader sweep of Grants Pass saw DeClerck's average plummet to .667.

You have to be pretty hot if you go 4-for-8 and your average drops that much (53 points), says North Medford coach Brett Wolfe. Steve is a natural hitter, a great athlete, and he works very hard at hitting. It's showing right now.

DeClerck pounded two home runs against South Medford in a game earlier this season, and has had a seven-hit doubleheader and six hits in another twin bill.

I started hitting the ball with a lot of confidence after a disappointing (2-for-15) start, DeClerck says. Overall, he has collected 28 hits in 62 at-bats on the season, for a .452 average. In SOC play, DeClerck is 22-for-33. He has a slugging percentage of 1.333 in conference play, according to North Medford statistician Don Schneider.

Usually, a slugging percentage of .700 is real good, but this is amazing, Schneider says. I've never seen one this high around here.

Steve has some of the best bat speed we've had around here, says Wolfe. It's because he's athletic, strong and he works hard at hitting. He gets about 100 to 150 cuts a day year-round. He could have played anything last winter, but he chose to work on hitting.

It all has to sound like good news to Washington coach Ken Knutson, who saw DeClerck during the Huskies' baseball camp last year, then signed him to a letter of intent last week.

We got a good look at him at the camp, and hopefully helped him out some, says Knutson. He can really hit the ball.

We see him as a very good athlete who could play four or five positions for us next year. He fits the picture for us real well.''

For the season, DeClerck has two homers, eight doubles, and leads the team in stolen bases with 14 thefts in 14 attempts.

One of the Washington assistant coaches came down and saw me play a few weeks ago in a doubleheader, DeClerck says. When it was over, I asked him if he thought I needed to work on anything to get ready to play for them.

He said, `No. Just keep doing what you're doing. You do everything we need, and you don't need to change anything.'

DeClerck says he learned to hit from his father, Steve Sr., a former baseball and football player for Humboldt State in Arcata, Calif.

My dad was also a good hitter, says DeClerck. He worked with me a lot when I was younger.

In football, he played nose guard. He was more of a tough guy on the field, where I used my speed as a runner.

I've never messed with my dad, says DeClerck. He's a big guy.

DeClerck, an honor student at North Medford with a 3.75 grade-point average, plans to major in business at Washington. He also hopes to continue the business of being a good hitter.

Hitting has always been my strong suit, DeClerck says. It started in T-ball when I was 5.

It helped to have a great baseball program at North Medford like the one we have. The coaching is so good here, you can't help but have good fundamentals.

Coach Wolfe and (Sandee) Kensinger have the knowledge of the game and the ability to teach it. That's why we have such a strong tradition here.

DeClerck wouldn't mind helping the Tornado win the SOC and Class 4A state championships.

The Black Tornado is tied with Crater at 9-1 atop the SOC standings with four games to play. The Comets and Black Tornado end the regular season May 15 in a doubleheader at Anhorn Field in Central Point.

That's the big one; it should decide everything, says DeClerck. We're excited for that one to get here. It would be a good way to finish my career here, if we can win those games.

Steve DeClerck, presently of North Medford and soon to be a University of Washington player, is batting .667 in the SOC.