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North, Roseburg and Crater look to rise should the Grizzlies fall

For some in the Southern Oregon Conference, the fact that Ashland is favored to repeat as champion is enough to ensure the Grizzlies won't be as fortunate the second time around.

"Ashland's got just about everyone back, but this year they're the favorite, and it seems like the favorites very seldom win the conference," says Roseburg coach Ron Goodell, whose team was the choice last season but went on to finish fourth. "It will be interesting to see how they handle that favorite role this year."

In fact, none of the teams picked to win the conference have gone on to do so over the past four seasons.

Should the trend continue, North Medford, Roseburg and Crater appear to be the most logical choices to steal Ashland's thunder.

North finished second in the SOC coaches' preseason poll buoyed by the promise of all-conference returners Evan McArthur, Rob Folsom, Brent Kircher and Dustin Butler.

Folsom hit a robust .413 with 10 RBIs last year as a freshman catcher, while McArthur proved to be a slick fielding shortstop and steady pitcher, Butler a force at the plate and on the mound and Kircher an imposing No. — pitcher with a 5-2 SOC record and a 2.98 ERA.

McArthur, Kircher and Eric Gonzalez are the lone seniors for the Black Tornado, which may lack varsity experience but more than makes up for it with overall skill and team chemistry.

"If we can establish consistency with our younger kids," says North coach Brett Wolfe, "and our older kids continue to lead us with sound decision making and maturity, then I think we have a good opportunity (to finish No. 1)."

With quality wins this season over top-ranked North Eugene, Oregon City and the like, Roseburg has flexed enough muscle already to add a target to its uniforms.

The Indians return four all-conference players and a dominant 1-2 pitching punch in right-handers Michael Myhre and Garrett Stembridge.

Left fielder David Powell was a first-team all-SOC selection after hitting .432 with 18 RBIs, while second-teamers Ben Cooper and Grant Goodell each hovered around the .300 mark.

Add in clutch-hitting catcher Cory Baird, middle infielder Kellen Walker and a host of other talents, and Ron Goodell foresees more than just preseason success for his Indians.

"If our pitchers continue to throw well and get better," says the coach, "then that could put us in a better spot than what the prognosticators will have us at.

"We're not going to have any one or two guys carry us. We're going to have the whole lineup at times getting key hits for us."

Crater returns maybe the most dominant pitching tandem in seniors Derek Petersen and Chris Pettegrew. The right-handed Petersen was a first-team selection after posting a 6-3 SOC record with a 2.21 ERA, while Pettegrew was equally as imposing from the left side.

Catcher Jared Maddocks and shortstop Frank Drake are also returning all-stars for the Comets, with second baseman David Sills more than capable of setting the table in the leadoff spot.

"I like this team," says Crater coach Chuck Dominiak. "This is as fast of a team as I've ever had and they all make good contact."

Another team sparked by its 1-2 pitching punch is South Medford, which was picked to finish fifth in coach Steve Antich's first year after taking over for current Oregon Tech head coach Pete Whisler.

Clint Rodreick and Jon McCollum will have the chore of silencing the potent bats in the SOC and will join the likes of second baseman Ryan Heil, catcher Matt Smith and outfielders Corey O'Neill and Jeremy Frantz to spark the Panthers' offense.

"There's going to be a lot of parity in the SOC this year," says Antich. "Hopefully, we can take advantage of that with a total team effort, some solid defense and pitching."

If any team beyond Ashland took something from the Grizzlies' run last year, it was Eagle Point and Klamath Union. Both figure to be a year away from serious contention for a playoff spot, but each sees an extra bounce in their dugouts from players realizing anything is possible after Ashland jumped from worst to first in one year.

"More so this year than any other year, I think from top to bottom the SOC is more balanced," says Eagle Point coach Tom Britton. "I don't think there is a coach in our league that doesn't have respect for one another. Every coach in this league knows he can get beat on any given day."

Making that possible for the Eagles will be a deep pitching staff that includes right-handers Brandon Willer and Dan Chavez and lefties Ron Depuy and Carl Christian.

At Klamath Union, first-year coach Tim Simmers' hopes rest with returning first-teamers Nick Caleb, who went 3-3 with a 3.07 ERA last year, and center fielder Jeff Mortenson, who hit .413 with 10 RBIs in SOC play. Second-teamer Mike Mitchell hit .417 with seven RBIs, making the top half of KU's order one to watch.

Spotting Grants Pass in eighth place is more of a testament to the SOC's depth than a weakness on the part of the Cavemen.

Grants Pass returns all-SOC pitcher Matt Rettke and a solid batting lineup led by catcher Speedy Ortiz and infielders Derrick Draper, Ryan Davidson and Dan Mecum.

Reach reporter at 776-4488, or e-mail