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Holtz helps South edge Comets in opener

CENTRAL POINT ' The Southern Oregon Conference baseball coaches gave South Medford an accessory for its uniform, and the Panthers wore it well in the conference opener Tuesday at Crater.

We'll have a target on our backs all year, said South pitcher Tim Holtz. We have to prove ourselves.

The Panthers, picked as the SOC co-favorite with North Medford, got three-hit pitching from Holtz through six innings, then beat back a Comets rally in the seventh inning for a 3-1 triumph at Mel Anhorn Field.

Despite blustery, cold weather that featured a sprinkle, both Holtz and counterpart Kurtis Knutson remained in control throughout, mixing up their pitches, moving them around the plate and generally keeping the hitters guessing.

Each went the distance, allowing five hits and having two errors made behind them.

Only once did either side get as many as two hits in an at-bat, and when Crater did it in the bottom of the seventh, luring many spectators to the edges of their seats, the Panther fielders kept the uprising in check to end the contest.

The big key for us, said South coach Steve Antich, was having Timmy, a senior leader, pitch a heck of a game for us. He made them use our defense, we used our bats and, most of the time, we made the plays.

Holtz, coming off a disappointing nonconference loss to Southridge last week, struck out three and walked two.

Only one Crater runner got as far as second base until the fourth inning, when the Comets scored their lone run.

I let them put the ball in play and trusted my defense, said Holtz, who helped South improve to 5-1 overall. The defense might have made a couple of errors, but they've always got my back.

With a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh, Holtz sandwiched a ground out and a strikeout around Brad Evans' popup single that fell between the right side of the Panthers' defense.

Dan Whitehead, representing the tying run, then hit a two-out single to put runners at first and second. However, Sean Teaters' fly out to center field ended the contest.

Crater (1-3 overall) coach Jim Powell was pleased with Knutson's effort. The senior, displaying zip on his fastball and a big-breaking curveball despite the cold, struck out seven, walked four and hit one batter.

I thought Kurtis did a good job, said Powell. For the majority of the time, he hit his spots, and that's what we expect him to do.

On a couple of occasions, Crater defenders missed opportunities to catch foul popups, and the Panthers made good on their second chances by putting runners aboard.

Giving them more outs than they should have really hurt us, said Powell.

Moreover, he said, the offense needed to come through with runners in scoring position. Five times the Comets got a man to second; four times, he got no further.

You can't have any dead spots in your order, said Powell. If you're not getting hits and producing runs, you're not going to beat teams in this league.

South struck first when Corey O'Neill reached base to start the game by getting hit by a pitch. A wild pitch and balk moved him to third, and Dan Chancler singled him home.

After Crater freshman catcher Charley Reina's sacrifice fly scored Teaters, who had walked, in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-1, the Panthers went ahead for good in the fifth.

O'Neill again got things started with a walk and was sacrificed to second on Andy Narus' bunt. After Chancler popped up to second, Allen Smith ripped a double to the gap in left-center field to bring in O'Neill.

I was seeing the ball good all day, said Smith, a senior first baseman. I just wasn't getting good pitches to hit. We had a runner in scoring position and he (Knutson) fell behind. I got a 3-1 pitch to drive, and I didn't try to do too much with it.

Narus added a sacrifice fly in the seventh, scoring Justin Meyer, who had walked.

Holtz was helped by two diving catches in right field by Logan Boyd, including a back-handed grab to his right in which he dove at full speed and plucked the ball just off the grass. The play robbed Gary Gomes of a leadoff hit in the fifth inning.

Logan made two stellar plays for us, huge plays, said Antich, noting that the junior didn't have his best hitting day, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. A lot of guys take that kind of stuff out there with them.

Although he doesn't want them every day, Antich didn't mind the nail-biter nature of the contest.

A win like this is good, he said. You fight it out and get some of those high-pressure types of reps under your belt.

It might help protect that target down the road.

South Medford.........................100 010 — ' — 5 2

Crater ......................................000 100 0 ' — 5 2

Holtz and Koziol; Knutson and Reina. W ' Holtz (2-1). L ' Knutson. 2B ' SM: Smith; C: Reed.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail