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North chugs into the picture

Sweep of Eagle Point puts it one game out of first place with a showdown against South Medford looming

Like a freight train gearing up to smash through the Southern Oregon Conference, the North Medford baseball team is coming.

The Black Tornado is at the point where you see puffs of smoke billowing around the bend and hear the whistle shriek, but the train isn't in sight just yet.

Once that missing gear kicks in ' and North has no doubt it will happen soon ' the Tornado has high hopes of plowing full steam ahead in its pursuit of a third straight conference title.

We've been just plugging along, plugging along, plugging along and we're getting real close for everything to be in sync, said North catcher Rob Folsom. When it comes together, it's going to be fun.

— The Black Tornado continued its upswing Saturday by sweeping its first doubleheader of the season, topping Eagle Point 3-0 and 13-3 in six innings at Miles Field.

Combined with a split in the South Medford-Ashland twin bill Saturday, the two wins allowed North (15-5, 11-4 SOC) to move within one game of the league-leading Panthers heading into Tuesday's matchup between the cross-town rivals.

It's kind of amazing how we've struggled to put it together and yet we're still in second place, said Folsom, who was 3-for-3 with two runs and four RBIs in Game 2. I think we have a really good shot at being SOC champs. It all depends on whether we come focused. If we play like we're capable, we're going to be right there in the end.

Hopefully, we keep getting hotter and hotter and our best games are to come.

The two wins over Eagle Point (5-15, 3-12 SOC) were nothing to sneeze at Saturday, with North junior left-hander Josh Suarez striking out eight with two walks in the four-hit shutout.

Josh is really a deceiving pitcher, said Folsom. He sneaks by you and makes you look silly. He does a real good job with what he has and has been real consistent this year.

His solid pitching in the opener proved necessary as Eagle Point's Ricky O'Callahan matched the effort with a five-hit outing of his own. The senior struck out five but hindered himself with four walks.

That's too bad, EP head coach Tom Britton said of O'Callahan's tough-luck outing. The kid throws a five-hitter and he loses? This Eagle Point team has just been snake-bitten all year in terms of scoring runs. They're pressing now, and it's just something they're going to have to work through.

Three of North's hits in Game — came in the second inning as the Tornado used singles by Abe Eubank, Russ Vandell and Kyle Williamson to load the bases. A sacrifice fly by Suarez and a balk call gave North a 2-0 lead.

Eubank and Vandell each drew one-out walks in the sixth, with Suarez following with an RBI single to close the scoring.

Given the news that South had lost its first game against Ashland, North was sufficiently motivated in the nightcap. The Tornado rapped seven hits and took advantage of two EP errors to post a 7-0 lead in the second inning.

Eubank, Vandell, Williamson and Charlie Behnke each had RBI singles in the frame, with Folsom belting a two-run double to put an end to sophomore Derek Grieve's time on the mound.

Folsom also added a two-run homer in the third to make it 9-0, but EP bounced back with two runs in the fourth as O'Callahan supplied an RBI double and came around to score on one of three Tornado errors in the frame.

Brandon White and Folsom each scored in the fifth to make it 11-2 on a weak grounder by Behnke that was thrown wide of first by EP second baseman Nick Staller.

Kyle Snyder supplied an RBI single off North's Cole Rohrbough, who came in in relief of Hovland in the sixth, but the Tornado closed out the sweep with an RBI triple by Suarez and an RBI single by White in the sixth.

They put that one big inning there on us and that hurt us, Britton said. They're an explosive team.

And now the Tornado is one game back of Medford's other explosive team, with a date Tuesday to break a 1-1 series tie between the clubs.

We know South is a good team, and we're going to have to play well to beat them, said North head coach Brett Wolfe. They're going to come and compete, and we're looking forward to the opportunity to be able to compete with them. It should be fun.

FIRST GAME

Eagle Point...............................000 000 0 ' 0 4 2

North Medford.........................020 001 x ' — 5 1

O'Callahan and Grieve; Suarez and Folsom. W ' Suarez (3-0). L ' O'Callahan. 2B ' EP: Augino.

SECOND GAME

Eagle Point..................................000 201 ' — 3 3

North Medford........................072 022 ' 13 16 6

Grieve, Bateman (2), DePuy (6) and O'Callahan; Hovland, Rohrbough (6) and Folsom. W ' Hovland (7-2). L ' Grieve. 2B ' EP: O'Callahan; NM: Eubank, Folsom. 3B ' NM: Suarez. HR ' NM: Folsom (4).

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