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Several teams vying for final playoff spots in SOC

nature, playoff races typically involve the teams at the top of the standings.

That's not entirely true this baseball season in the Southern Oregon Conference.

A topsy-turvy campaign has led to a similarly off-kilter battle for the SOC's four playoff spots, with more emphasis placed on the bottom-tier teams than those above them as the final two weekends approach.

Having lived up to expectations, top-ranked North Medford (18-1 overall) has already secured a playoff spot with a 10-0 SOC record heading into Saturday's doubleheader with Ashland at Miles Field.

— The remaining three spots, however, are about as secure as an elephant shackled by dental floss.

Klamath Union (14-6, 7-3 SOC) enters Saturday in second place, with Ashland (10-9, 6-4) hot on its heels in third.

Roseburg (10-8, 4-6) and South Medford (8-11, 4-6) are tied for the fourth, and final, playoff spot, with a one-game lead on the rest of the SOC as Crater, Eagle Point and Grants Pass are lumped at 3-7.

It could be KU, it could be us, it could be South or Ashland, Grants Pass or Eagle Point, first-year Roseburg coach Troy Thompson says of North's playoff counterparts. It's amazing that it's going to come down to the final four games and every team in our league has a chance at those playoff spots.

Parity, it seems, can create odd circumstances.

This year's been one of those years where there are a lot of teams that are very similar, says Thompson. One hit here or one less error there and it could be a different season for any number of those teams as far as wins and losses.

Klamath Union has the best chance at securing its first playoff berth since 1992, but second-year head coach Tim Simmers isn't taking anything for granted with South and North remaining on the schedule.

We're using a lot of the old clich's of playing one game at a time and so forth, Simmers says of his team's preparation for the stretch run. If we're not ready to play, we're in trouble because we don't have a margin of error for complacency.

After scanning the standings and remaining schedules for each team, Simmers says his team is taking a now-or-never approach.

We really want to be able to settle our own destiny this weekend, he says. We know if we can take care of business this coming weekend with at least a split (against South), that leaves us in real good shape. If we lose four straight, we're in trouble. We could go from second to out of the playoffs.

Ashland has the formidable task of taking on North this weekend and traveling to Grants Pass next weekend. The Cavemen (6-13) already own splits with Roseburg, Crater and South and typically are a handful on their home field.

The Grizzlies do, however, have the luxury of owning tiebreakers over Roseburg, South and Crater should that come into play.

After starting the SOC season 0-5, Thompson says his Indians are just excited to be in the position they are entering the final two twin bills.

Roseburg's biggest plus is owning a tiebreaker over KU should the Pelicans falter, but the Indians will be subject to hungry teams in Crater (7-8) and Eagle Point (10-9) to close out the season.

A 1-5 slide over the past few weeks has placed South in a precarious position after a 3-1 start, with Tuesday's knee injury to junior center fielder and leadoff hitter Corey O'Neill further handicapping the Panthers.

There's no question that's a big subtraction from our lineup, but all we can do is come together and ask a little more from each of our other guys to step up and fill in for Corey, says second-year South head coach Steve Antich.

The muddled playoff picture provides the most optimism for his Panthers, says Antich. If South can take care of business and get a little help along the way, a prolonged season isn't out of the question.

I can't think of a lot of years where you can be 4-6 and tied for the fourth spot with two weekends to go, says Antich. We've put ourselves in a tough spot, but you never know. This year's been crazy.

South has had three of its five Saturday doubleheaders postponed thus far, and a fourth could be on the way since Simmers says the weather report in Klamath Falls this weekend calls for snow.

Of the trio tied for sixth, Crater has the best chance of nabbing a playoff spot if only for its home-field advantage and the fact that the Comets face both fourth-place teams in Roseburg and South.

We're in a position to control a playoff spot for us, but we need to win out, says first-year Comets head coach Jim Powell. That's what we're focused on. It's an advantage for us to be at home where we're comfortable, but I'm not sure it's that big of a deal.

Eagle Point and Grants Pass face one another Saturday, then hit the road next Saturday to play Roseburg and Ashland, respectively.

While the prospect of any 3-7 team making the playoffs may look dim, each can find inspiration in how the Panthers closed out last season. South took a 2-8 record into the final two weeks before shocking playoff-bound Crater with a split and then taking two from Roseburg, which advanced to the state quarterfinals.

That's the whole thing in these last two weekends, says Simmers, anything can happen.

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