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Four different paths, one destination

Four local standouts are playing pivotal roles for the Western Baptist baseball team this spring

Even when they're struggling to get their uniform on correctly and remember who they hit after in the lineup, most Little Leaguers foster dreams of one day making it to the major leagues.

Hitting that heroic home run, striking out that last batter, turning a pivotal double play. Such dreams reside in most mini-McGwires, albeit underneath a bubble gum facade that drifts in and out of focus with every pitch.

Medford's Nate Mayben had that dream back then, and still holds tight to it this very day.

The amazing thing to him is these days he's surrounded by many of the same faces.

Mayben is one of four Medford-area players paving the road for a Western Baptist College baseball program trying to finish over .500 for the first time since being reinstated in 1988. The Warriors enter this weekend's action with a 15-14 overall and 2-4 mark in the five-team Cascade Conference.

Joining the former North Medford standout in that quest are former Black Tornado stars K.C. Rumrey and Jason Brownell and Cascade Christian's Bryan Edwards.

"It's a cool experience to be able to play with friends you've had for a long time," says Mayben, "especially to do it at the collegiate level."

Mayben and Edwards last played on the same team when they were in Little League.

Brownell and Mayben have been apart for only one baseball season since they were 13.

And a break in action recently had Rumrey and Mayben settling on the fact that the two are playing on the same team, be it summer ball or in school, for the ninth time.

"Playing in high school together, that was fun," says Brownell, "but we never thought K.C., myself and Nate would be on the same team again. We're like brothers on the team, and now that Bryan Edwards has joined us, it's gotten that much more fun for all of us."

That enjoyment has spilled over to positive results on the field, with Mayben second on the team in runs scored (25), hits (35) and ERA (2.56). The sophomore second baseman is tied with Rumrey for the team's second-best batting average (.315) and has 16 RBIs. As a pitcher, Mayben leads the team with two complete-game efforts and has a 1-1 record in 31? innings pitched.

"Nate Mayben has just been excellent at second base and has been doing a really good job swinging the bat," says Rumrey, who hits behind Mayben in the third spot. "He's one of our best players by far."

Rumrey, who transferred from Oregon State after his freshman year, fits into that category as well with a team-high five home runs. The junior center fielder also boasts a well-rounded share of RBIs (25), hits (35) and runs scored (24) in a season where he's been able to avoid nagging wrist, elbow and knee injuries that previously held him back.

"As far as quality of player and person," says fourth-year Western Baptist coach Paul Gale, "it doesn't get any better than K.C. In many ways he's the heart and soul of our team. It seems like when he plays well, we've played well as a team."

Despite sharing duties behind the plate, at first base or designated hitter, Brownell, a sophomore transfer from Western Oregon, owns the seventh-highest batting average for the Warriors (.269) with four doubles and eight RBIs.

"Jason Brownell is kind of our all-around guy," says Rumrey. "He's a great defensive catcher and has been very versatile."

Making the most surprising contribution for the Warriors has been Edwards who, despite his freshman status, has become a force out of the bullpen. Edwards leads the team in wins with a 3-0 record and has a deceiving 4.70 ERA after a recent poor outing. He has appeared in a team-leading 17 of Western Baptist's 29 games.

"Bryan's been one of our main guys out of the bullpen," adds Rumrey. "When he comes in, I feel more comfortable with him than anybody else we could put out there, and he's only a freshman."

Edwards says he wasn't sure what to expect when he signed to play at Western Baptist, but has made the most of the opportunity given him by Gale and his staff.

"I have to be on my toes and prepare for every game we play because I don't know if I'm going to get in or not," says Edwards, who was a starting pitcher at Cascade Christian, "but I'm enjoying it. It's just nice to be given a chance. Some programs won't give you that if you're a freshman."

In fact, that chance to play right away is one of the factors that intrigued the local foursome about Western Baptist.

Then everything seem to have a domino effect.

Mayben's older brother, Mike, had attended Western Baptist so his choice proved to be an easy one.

After a year at Oregon State, Rumrey became disenchanted with the sport of baseball and turned to religion. That path led him back to Mayben, who had just signed to play for Gale and couldn't speak any higher of the Christian atmosphere on the Salem campus and of the entire Warrior staff. Rumrey asked Mayben to tell Gale he might be interested in playing baseball some more. The next day Gale offered Rumrey a scholarship.

"God just has a way of looking out for you," says Rumrey.

Brownell says he struggled in his relationship with the coaching staff as a freshman at Western Oregon. He had heard good things about Western Baptist from a friend who graduated from the college, and also heard Gale might be in need of a catcher. After Brownell introduced the possibility of a transfer, Gale obliged with a scholarship.

"I was pretty fortunate to fall into such a good situation," says Brownell.

The final addition of Edwards came when Gale decided he needed a fresh assortment of pitching arms and the former Challenger sat high on his list.

Four different paths, one similar destination, and a link forged through their younger days in Southern Oregon.

"What I've noticed is Southern Oregon guys can get ignored because a lot of times scouts stop once they hit Eugene," says Gale. "But I've thought for years the best baseball has been played south of Eugene. Southern Oregon's always the first place we'll go look. As far as quality and quantity, that's probably our best bet."

It's a gamble that's certainly been paying off thus far.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail