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New faces, same expectations

North reloads

as favorite for

softball title

This is a season of change in Southern Oregon Conference softball:

For the first time since 1996, Steph Adams, Megumi Hackett and Kylie Allen aren't in the North Medford line-up.

They graduated with a bundle of records and several other veterans of three state finals last June.

All-state shortstop Brynnen Guthrie, another four-year starter, departed Roseburg along with veteran coach Ken Cooper.

Grants Pass, which shed its also-ran status by winning three state playoff games last year, could make a run for its first SOC title.

Freshmen pitchers figure to make their mark at Eagle Point, North Medford and South Medford

One thing hasn't changed, however. North Medford is still the pick to win the SOC.

We lost a tremendous amount of experience, including four first-team all-state players, says North Medford coach Larry Binney. But our goals are still high, we still have high expectations.

Whereas the Tornado has been a near-unanimous choice of the conference coaches in recent years, four teams garnered first-place votes. North polled four firsts, Crater two, while Grants Pass and Roseburg had one each.

North narrowly edged Crater and Roseburg for the top spot with Grants Pass fourth.

It's not going to be a cakewalk, says Binney, who planned to retire with the Class of '99 but reversed himself.

Despite losing all that talent, the Tornado cupboard remains well stocked.

These kids have played in three or four national tournaments at different age levels, says Binney. Normally, they would've been varsity starters last year. But we had such a dominant senior class.

Junior Steph Coe broke Terri Walker's 17-year-old Tornado single-season record by driving in 48 runs last year. Coe also tied the single-season mark of 11 doubles held jointly by her sister Missy (1998) and Adams (11). Coe hit .438 and had three home runs in 30 games. She hit .489 in conference and was a first-team all-state designated hitter.

But Coe's right arm will be just as important to North's success. She was 17-2 with an 0.63 ERA in 22 games last year, striking out 96 and walking 30 in 122 innings. Those numbers earned her first-team all-conference and third-team all-state honors.

As often the case in his 19-year career, Binney has a freshman pitcher waiting in the wings.

Right-hander Keri Sevano had an impressive debut in the Black Tornado Invitational during spring vacation, pitching 10 innings without surrendering an earned run. Binney says she'll pitch 26 games this season, splitting time between varsity and junior varsity.

Junior Jill Carrigan split time between left field and first base -- often playing both positions within the same inning. She figures to play a less nomadic role in 2000, succeeding Hackett at shortstop. But that may change too, because first baseman Haley Varley has undergone oral surgery and might not be ready for Tuesday's SOC opener against Klamath Union.

Carrigan hit .354 last year with 19 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. She figures to follow Coe and hit clean-up.

The other returning regular is Tina Quintero, who shared right field duties with Varley last year and is now at second base.

Sophomore Brittney Hillyer, a transfer from Crater, has replaced all-stater Erin Glantz behind the plate.

Crater was tabbed for No. 2 and returns its pitching duo of Kara Ray and Andrea Perdue that the Comets hope will propel them to their first SOC crown since 1993.

Perdue was a second-team all-leaguer last year, with a 6-1 record and 1.17 ERA in 48 innings.

Pitching will be the key, admits Crater coach Mike Meunier. Neither pitcher is dominating and they both have to hit location and change speeds. They will have to get to a point where they can get people out and keep the ball out of the hands of a young defense.

Sophomore Addie Wiersma, who hit .389 a year ago, moves to shortstop.

New Roseburg coach Craig Munion has a string of three straight state playoff appearances on which to build and has a strong returning nucleus. Senior pitcher/left fielder Keri Nelson, who hit .447 in conference last year, earned first-team honors in the outfield.

Junior Erin Goodell, a .453 hitter and second-team all-star at second base, moves to shortstop. Junior right-hander Molly Liston plays opposite of Nelson. She went 6-1 with a 1.17 ERA in '99.

Those three could have a big say in whether the Indians win their first championship since back-to-back titles in 1986-87.

I think we have the ability to compete for the title, but it's a matter of how we jell, says Munion. We don't have the power we've had in the past. We can't rely on the big inning.

Grants Pass surprised everyone including its coach by reaching the state quarterfinals before losing to state finalist North Eugene.

Second-year coach Clay Rounsaville says there's a different level of expectation this spring.

Last year, when we set goals, even some of the older kids said they wanted to have fun and get along with everybody, Rounsaville says.

This year, our goal is to compete for the district title, do well in the state playoffs and beat the teams that beat them last year. They worked extremely hard last summer.

The Cavers return seven regulars from last year, including senior catcher Gabby Rathburn and sophomore outfielder Stephanie Franklin, both second-team all-conference choices. Senior shortstop Mary Barbian gained honorable mention acclaim.

Clutching-hitting senior third baseman Reshaun Lewis also returns, while sophomore right-hander Sam Marrs and junior left-hander Seanna Doyle, a transfer from Garden Grove, Calif., will share pitching duties.

Ashland was nudged out of the fourth playoff spot by Grants Pass last year after doing the same to the Cavers in 1998.

Senior pitchers Kristen Strait and Amy Williams, along with center fielder Megan Humann could have the Grizzlies competing once again.