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Allen guiding Grizz to the top

ASHLAND — Practice is about to get under way at North Mountain Park, the city's magnificent new baseball complex that is home to the Ashland High team.

— Everyone has arrived except for Mike Allen, the Grizzlies? star pitcher and outfielder.

— He?ll be here any second now — but his music will get here first, jokes first baseman Bill Rowe.

— Sure enough, a booming bass pounds the air just prior to Allen's arrival in a Toyota pickup.

— Allen takes his usual ribbing from his teammates, partly for the overbearing vibes and partly for being the last guy to show up.

— It's the kind of good-natured banter that close-knit sports teams often exhibit, and Allen has never had so much fun.

— The junior pitcher is having an MVP-like season for the surprising Grizzlies, who are tied for second place in the Southern Oregon Conference with just four games left in the regular season.

— This has always been a football town, Allen says as he laces up his cleats for another workout, but I've always been a baseball guy.

— Allen used to be a football guy, too. A little less than two years ago, he was being penciled in as the next great Grizzly quarterback, expected to start by his junior season. But he was thrown into the fire as a sophomore in 1999 when Zach Hassell went down with an injury.

— To make matters worse, Allen's first two starts were on the road against Roseburg and Marshfield, two of the top-ranked teams in the state, and the Grizzlies were missing several other starters.

— Ashland lost both games by wide margins, limped to a 5-4 record and was ousted by West Linn in the first round of the playoffs.

— I wasn't ready — physically or mentally, Allen says. I was barely 15 years old and weighed maybe 160 pounds.

— There's a lot of pressure that goes with that job, and I just wasn't ready for it.

— Allen skipped some of the football workouts last summer to focus on baseball, and after getting demoted to second string three weeks into last season, he quit the football team.

— He admits there was a rift between himself and head football coach Jim Nagel, but Allen harbors no animosity and no regrets.

— He's having too much fun serving as the catalyst of a Grizzly baseball team that is on the verge of making the state playoffs for the first time since 1993. Ashland is 15-6 overall and 7-3 in the Southern Oregon Conference heading into today's 1:30 p.m. doubleheader against Klamath Union at Modoc Field in Klamath Falls.

— Allen, who now weighs a robust 195, has posted a 5-1 record with victories over Crater, North Medford, South Medford and Grants Pass. His ERA in conference play is a nifty 1.25, and he's walked just seven batters with 34 strikeouts in 44? innings.

— We call him the horse, Ashland head baseball coach Doug Stover says. We jump on his back and ride him for seven innings.

— Allen's fastball isn't overpowering, but his curveball and change-up often leave batters tied up in knots.

— I didn't use the change-up much last season because I couldn't throw it for strikes very often, Allen says. But now I can.

— Allen is also Ashland's top hitter with a .400 batting average, and his 16 RBIs rank second to Rowe.

— Allen spent part of last winter attending John White's hitting school and attributes much of his improvement at the plate to the Medford hitting guru.

— He did a lot of little things that tightened up my swing, Allen says.

— Not that Allen is a one-man team. Pitchers Nick Ehlers and Jason Schroeder are enjoying fine seasons of their own and Rowe, who is batting .350 with six home runs and 24 RBIs, is the best power hitter in the SOC.

— But the pony who took snaps for the football team is a stallion now, and the Grizzlies are racing hard down the homestretch of what could be their best season ever.

Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail