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SOC gives 21-game baseball schedulea trial run

Prep Notebook

Beginning next season, baseball teams in the Southern Oregon Conference are planning to play a 21-game league schedule.

The new arrangement will entail playing conference opponents three times instead of twice. SOC teams will play single games on Tuesdays and doubleheaders on Saturdays, rather than the current format that has them playing most of their league games on Saturdays.

The new format was approved by conference athletic directors for two main reasons:

(1) ' Non-conference scheduling. With only 14 conference games under the current format, some teams have had trouble finding enough opponents to fill out their 26-game regular-season schedules.

(2) ' Travel. Budget constraints are forcing some teams to keep miles to a minimum. Playing seven more conference games will reduce travel considerably. North Medford, South Medford, Ashland, Crater, Eagle Point and Grants Pass are all roughly within 40 miles of one another.

The SOC will make a trial run with the new system this season, except that the single games on Tuesdays will be non-conference.

Eagle Point coach Tom Britton, who has lobbied for the 21-game schedule ever since Mazama dropped out of the SOC four years ago, sees another added benefit.

I think we have the best conference in the state, and playing everyone three times is going to get teams better prepared for the playoffs, he says. I'd rather go toe-to-toe with the teams in this league than schedule a bunch of smaller schools and that sort of thing.

North Medford coach Brett Wolfe is lukewarm to the idea. He has enjoyed facing non-conference competition from the Portland, Salem, Eugene and Bend areas.

The Black Tornado will still have five non-conference games under the new format ' but must now be selective about who it plays.

I've just always enjoyed playing those good teams from up north, along with Bend and Mountain View, says Wolfe, whose team is ranked No. 2 in the Class 4A state poll. But I understand the logic (of playing a 21-game league schedule), and we'll do what we're told.

Under the new format, teams that are tied in the league standings will no longer have to play off to determine state seeding positions, since each team plays every other team three times. One team would thus own a 2-1 or 3-0 edge in the season series, giving it a tiebreaker advantage.

The Skyline Conference has used the 21-game league schedule for many years.

SOC TRACK HAS also undergone a significant scheduling change this spring. Teams have abandoned the dual-meet format in favor of triangular meets.

The exception will be the North-South meet on May 8.

We've gone from seven dual meets to three tri-meets and one dual, North Medford coach Mark Hodges says. We'll save on transportation costs, but more than that, it's going to be a good thing as far as training goes. Our kids will now be able to train real hard during certain weeks without having to worry about a meet.

Hodges says the SOC coaches voted 8-0 in favor of the new format.