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Sowing seeds of success

Led by Marshall, MVP Mendenhall, young crop of Panthers blossoms into SOC all-stars

There's no question the talent was already in place.

As much is evident from a scan of the Southern Oregon Conference's first-team all-star list, with five South Medford softball players making the cut, including player-of-the-year Jen Mendenhall, a sophomore pitcher.

But what wasn't present in a Panther program that went 1-13 in SOC play as recently as two years ago was a winning attitude and unfailing optimism.

Dan Marshall was more than happy to provide those intangibles, even if being South's head coach wasn't a blip on his radar until a few months ago.

— For his efforts ' which included guiding the Panthers to a co-SOC championship, their first since 1992 ' Marshall has been named the conference's coach of the year by a vote of his peers.

It's been an unbelievable season, says Marshall, whose squad, making its first state-playoff appearance since 1994, was unceremoniously bounced from the postseason by visiting Forest Grove, 5-0, Monday.

Three months ago, I didn't even know I was gonna be coaching this team. ... To be honored as coach of the year is a definite honor. I feel very fortunate to have such a tremendous ballclub.

Joining Mendenhall as first-team selections for South are sophomore catcher Alex Jordahl, sophomore third baseman Jackie Chaplin, junior shortstop Katie Kaufman and junior right fielder Christin Palazzolo.

Senior pitcher Darci rne, sophomore center fielder Bethany Stousland and Mendenhall, as a utility, are the Panthers' second-team picks.

That list illuminates South's youth, and the Panthers, who jumped from 7-7 in the SOC last year to 12-2 this spring, had just three seniors on the varsity roster. For Monday's playoff game, they also had three juniors, eight sophomores and four freshmen ready to go.

That Marshall was able to take, along with assistants Stuart Corns and Lisa Rainey, his precocious bunch to an 18-8 overall record and its other accomplishments speaks of Marshall's coaching strengths, says North Medford's Brent Barry.

He coached me when we went to the 13-year-old World Series, says Barry, who directed the Black Tornado to a tie for first with South in his own initial year in charge. He's just a good motivator and a good competitor.

Softball's a funny game, and confidence is a huge part of it. ... Dan's portrayal of confidence in his team got them believing in themselves.

Mendenhall also had a whole lot to do with the Panthers' breakthrough campaign, compiling perhaps the best conference-play pitching numbers in SOC history.

She was 7-0 in seven starts and eight total SOC appearances and didn't allow a single run in 47 innings. She struck out 52, walked 10 and permitted 19 hits in conference play.

She credited Marshall for boosting the team's confidence and expressed surprise at her POY selection.

At the beginning, I don't even think we believed we could go this far, says Mendenhall, a 6-foot-1 right-hander. (Marshall) definitely believed in all of us. He believed that we could do whatever we wanted.

As for her own excellence, she says, I thought I would do pretty good this year, but not what I did.

That's an understatement.

Larry Binney, who coached North Medford for 20 years, winning 17 SOC titles, can't recall a starting pitcher ever rolling through the SOC schedule without giving up a run.

Marshall thinks it's pretty darn special, himself.

I think it's unheard of, Marshall says. And I think it's amazing when you look at the competition in this year's conference. Every time we went out, we had a tough ballgame.

I really felt like after we went down to the Lassen (Calif.) tournament (at the start of the season), and even in practice sessions watching her throw, that she was going to be huge for us. I thought, 'Hey, she's the real deal.' But how dominant she's been, it got here a little bit quicker than I thought.

Mendenhall finished 9-3 overall, and her first-team all-SOC teammates produced their own gaudy statistics in conference competition.

Jordahl batted .268 and posted a .991 fielding percentage while deterring opponents' base running with perhaps the league's best arm behind the plate.

Chaplin, who was also nominated for player of the year, amassed an SOC-best .535 batting average to accompany 11 RBIs and nine stolen bases.

Kaufman, hitting behind Chaplin in the No. 2 spot, batted .419 with 14 steals and 11 RBIs and also fielded at a .952 clip at shortstop.

Palazollo, who joined the team late because of a three-week school trip to Italy, came on to hit .308 and didn't commit an error in the outfield.

North Medford (26-2), which beat South, 1-0, in a tiebreaker to take the SOC's No. — seed to the state playoffs for the ninth straight year, placed six players on the first team.

Senior pitcher Keri Sevano (7-1 with a 0.52 ERA in SOC play), junior shortstop Darcy Cordell (.420 average, 12 RBIs), senior third baseman Corey Whitaker (.432 average and .580 on-base percentage), junior first baseman Laura Tarkon (.370 average, a league-high 14 RBIs), sophomore right fielder Deni Rowley (.449 average, 10 runs scored) and senior center fielder Brandi Paxton (.304 average, 1.000 fielding percentage) are the Tornado's representatives.

Sevano, who was last year's POY, joins Whitaker, Rowley and Paxton as repeat first-team selections.

A 5-4 winner in eight innings over Thurston on Monday, North hosts Hood River Valley ' the second seed out of the Intermountain Conference and a 3-2 winner over Aloha in the first round ' at 4:30 p.m. today in second-round action at Fagone Field.

The other first-team all-SOC picks are: senior pitcher Jessica Morton (9-4, 0.53 ERA) of Grants Pass; sophomore pitcher Janelle Cristofaro (6-1, 0.41 ERA, .349 average) of Crater; senior catcher Cari Schruth (.324 average) of Roseburg; senior outfielder Ashley Bellum (.326 average, 12 RBIs, 10 runs scored) of Grants Pass and senior utility Megan Beugli (.393 average) of Ashland.

Bellum is a repeat selection.

A full listing of the SOC all-stars for 2003 follows.

SOC Softball All-Conference

FIRST TEAM

PlayerPos.TeamYr.

Jen MendenhallPS. MedfordSo.

Jessica MortonPGrants PassSr.

Keri SevanoPN. MedfordSr.

Janelle CristofaroPCraterSo.

Cari SchruthCRoseburgSr.

Alex JordahlCS. MedfordSo.

Jackie ChaplinIFS. MedfordSo.

Darcy CordellIFN. MedfordJr.

Corey WhitakerIFN. MedfordSr.

Laura TarkonIFN. MedfordJr.

Katie KaufmanIFS. MedfordJr.

Deni RowleyOFN. MedfordSo.

Ashley BellumOFGrants PassSr.

Brandi PaxtonOFN. MedfordSr.

Christin PalazzoloOFS. MedfordJr.

Megan BeugliUTAshlandSr.

Player of the Year '

Jen Mendenhall, South Medford.

Coach of the Year '

Dan Marshall, South Medford.

SECOND TEAM

PlayerPos.TeamYr.

Darci rnePS. MedfordSr.

Brooke CharlesPRoseburgSr.

Kelle ThomasCCraterSr.

Stephanie HaskettCN. MedfordSo.

Tyler SutherlandIFCraterSo.

Megan RuhnIFRoseburgSr.

Hannah JamesIFKlamathSr.

Ali PazIFRoseburgFr.

Brin TamblinIFGrants PassSr.

Allesha SpradlingOFCraterJr.

Jamie TorgersonOFGrants PassSo.

Bethany StouslandOFS. MedfordSo.

Laura MitchellOFRoseburgSr.

Jen MendenhallUTS. MedfordSo.

HONORABLE MENTION

Pitchers '

Jenni Bittle, Crater, Jr.; Megan Beugli, Ashland, Sr.

Catcher '

Karyne Sander, Grants Pass, Jr.

Infielders '

Angie Wright, Crater, Sr.; Beth Morrill, North Medford, Sr.; Jenna Randall, Ashland, Jr.; Crystal Huntley, Crater, Sr.; Justine Cerda, Grants Pass, So.; Kelsey Anhorn, Crater, Sr.; Shannon Richardson, Klamath Union, So.

Outfielders '

Justine Bettencourt, Crater, So.; Shelly Hanson, Roseburg, Sr.; Denay Martin, Roseburg, So.

Utilities '

Bess Fagan, Klamath Union, Jr.; Jamie Wiliams, Eagle Point, Sr.; Amber Gallego, Grants Pass, Sr.