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Hot Challengers head to state

Cascade has 20-3 record, No. 2 ranking

Tim Alvarez has played on four league championship baseball teams and has been named first-team all-conference each year.

Such team and individual accomplishments illustrate the success that Cascade Christian High and its star pitcher/first baseman have had.

And yet there is one glaring omission that haunts Alvarez and his teammates: No state playoff wins.

The Challengers, the No. 2-ranked Class 2A team in the state with a 20-3 record and co-champions of the Southern Cascade League, are anxious to hoist that monkey off their backs. The opportunity will come May 29.

We have all the pieces to the puzzle this year -- there are no excuses, says Alvarez, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior who is batting .657 with 46 RBIs. We had a real good team when I was a freshman, but this team is better.

Alvarez fired a two-hitter against Riddle in the first round of the playoffs last season but suffered a 2-0 loss when Cascade Christian made two errors in one inning and failed to produce any runs.

The defeat was a bitter one, but it lit a motivational fire under the Challengers.

And no one was more motivated than Alvarez, who has spent dozens of hours honing his skills at the Southern Oregon Timberjacks hitting school. He also played basketball over the winter to stay in shape.

Perhaps because he plays for a small school and has yet to receive much exposure -- a couple of playoff wins might change that -- Alvarez isn't being heavily recruited.

I've coached around here for 20 years, and I've never seen a better first baseman at the high school level, Cascade Christian coach John Bruce says. Tim has good hands, good footwork and a strong arm. I've never seen a ball go under his glove.

He's also among the top 10 hitters I've seen. He consistently hits the ball hard, and he's only struck out once in the past two years.

Alvarez also is a standout pitcher. He suffered his first loss of the season in a relief appearance last Friday against Lost River but came back to win the second game and boost his record to 7-1.

Along with sophomore Bryan Edwards, they comprise one of the top Class 2A pitching tandems in the state.

Edwards, a 6-2, 210-pound right-hander who throws sidearm, has posted a 6-1 record.

His sidearm motion causes his fastball to sink, and that just gives the hitters fits, Bruce says. He's been throwing that way ever since he was in Little League.

Some coaches have tried to change Bryan because they're worried about him hurting his elbow. But his arm doesn't bother him and he's pitching great, and we're sure as heck not going to ruffle his feathers now.

Edwards posted a 6-0 record for Cascade Christian last season as a freshman and then went 9-0 for the North Medford Mavericks last summer in American Legion ball. Toss in his 6-1 mark this spring and he's 21-1 over the past 15 months.

Summer ball really helped me as a pitcher, Edwards says. I got in a lot of innings and faced a lot of guys at the 4A level.''

Edwards got in the weight room a couple of months ago, and that added a couple of mph to a fastball that was already in the low 80s.

There's no telling what that kid's going to accomplish before he graduates, Bruce says. He's got a pretty decent curveball to go with his fastball, and he needs to develop a third pitch. But his potential is scary.

The Challengers also have a capable No. — thrower in Aaron Beamish, a 6-foot, 170-pound right-hander who has won four of five starts.

Beamish plays third base when he's not on the mound.

The infield is anchored by junior shortstop Don Jenkins, a three-year starter who is batting over .500 from the leadoff spot. Sophomores Justin McCord and Nolan Roberts have been steady at second base and catcher, respectively, while an all-senior outfield of Nick Ristow, Andy Bellamy and Jesse Figueroa has turned fly balls into routine outs. Another senior -- Joe Moxley -- also has logged time in the outfield.

There are two differences between this year's team and last year's, Jenkins says. Our pitchers are a year older and our entire lineup can hit the ball. Last year, we had some tough outs among our top five hitters, but then we dropped off.

Jenkins says the Challengers established three goals at the start of the season: win the league, win a playoff game and then march to the state championship.

They meet Lost River Friday in a playoff game to determine the league's No. — and 2 berths to state.

A lot of us have been together for three years and some of us dating to our Babe Ruth days, Jenkins says. We've got the talent and the togetherness to go a long ways.

A step beyond the first round of the playoffs would be a nice start.

Tim Alvarez, hitting .657 with 46 RBIs, is one of the big reasons Cascade is successful. - Photo by Jim Craven