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Barlow coach has ties to the valley

Former HV coach Stebbins returns for today's semifinal

Steve Stebbins, who will guide Sam Barlow High against Crater today in the semifinals of the Class 4A state playoffs, is no stranger to Southern Oregon baseball.

As such, he's chosen not to give his players a history lesson.

Barlow and Crater meet at 4 p.m. at Anhorn Field in Central Point.

The winner advances to the state championship game Saturday at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer against the winner of today's other semifinal between Sheldon and host Lakeridge.

A year ago, Crater won the state crown over one of its Southern Oregon Conference brethren, North Medford.

"I'm trying not to tell the kids anything about that," said Stebbins, who coached four years at Hidden Valley in Murphy before moving to Barlow of Gresham six years ago. "Southern Oregon has a history of great baseball. Every summer and every spring, someone's right there from Southern Oregon. I'm hoping my kids aren't smart enough to realize that.

"It'll be interesting. We're just going to come down there and play hard and let the chips fall where they may."

Some of Barlow's players are so young, a history lesson might be in order.

Four sophomores are on the field virtually all the time for the Bruins, who were second in the Mount Hood Conference and have an 18-11 overall record. Nine of their 14 players are in their first year of varsity.

Barlow played .500 ball against 10 non-league opponents, but seven of those teams made the state playoffs.

"That was a big learning experience for our young kids," said Stebbins. "We grew up quick. Three of our four pitchers are seniors, so they've been around. They've been the ones that held us together."

In addition, the top four hitters in a lineup that has averaged more than eight runs per playoff game are veterans: three seniors and junior catcher Bryan Donohue, who started as a sophomore.

Barlow has emerged from a pitcher-rich conference with bats a blazing. It defeated Mountain View 10-8 in the first round, then topped North Eugene 8-2 and, on Monday, handled Jesuit 7-1.

"It's been interesting," said Stebbins. "All our coaches thought the pitching in our league was really good. Then we get out of our league and we haven't seen a pitcher that can shut us down, yet."

The Bruins are led by Mike Ekstrom, who was named both the player and the pitcher of the year in the Mount Hood Conference. He won't take the mound against Crater, having stopped Jesuit on four hits and striking out 12 two days ago.

He's batting .335 in the No. 2 spot and plays center field.

Today's starting pitcher, Rian Patrick, is 4-3 with a 3.00 ERA. He's also the leadoff hitter, with an average of .384, and plays third base when not pitching.

The No. — hitter, shortstop Kevin Lawler, is hitting .370.

Donohue bats fourth and is the Bruins' field general, calling the pitches throughout the game and taking charge of the action. He got off to a slow start to the season, but batted .370 in conference play and earned all-conference honors and has continued to wield a hot bat in the playoffs.

"I guess he knows when to get it done," said Stebbins, adding that Donohue's defensive presence "will be important. From everything I hear about Crater, they're fast and they like to run."

One of Barlow's sophomores, James Allan, is having a terrific playoff run. He's 9-for-9 in the three games, and against Jesuit had a home run and a double.

In that game, sophomore outfielder Kevin Mohning also homered.

Crater, the No. 2 SOC team, is coming off a 9-8, come-from-behind victory over Oregon City. In that game, the Comets (23-6 overall) twice rallied from three-run deficits.

Derek Petersen (12-3) has been the winning pitcher in each of Crater's four playoff games, including a league seeding game.

He has split time on the mound with left-hander Chris Pettegrew, who earned the start in Crater's last two playoff games.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail