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Suarez seizes opportunity to shine

North Medford junior has been key to Tornado's rise to first place in the SOC

Taking a page from the Boy Scout handbook, Josh Suarez did his best during the winter offseason to be prepared.

Dating as far back as November, the North Medford junior dragged himself out of bed hours before first light to hone his pitching.

It didn't matter that the left-hander was earmarked to be the Black Tornado's No. — pitcher, Suarez worked hard to develop a changeup and fine-tune his fastball and curveball.

Several months later, all that hard work and dedication appears to be paying off as Suarez has developed into one of the top pitchers in the Southern Oregon Conference.

Josh is one of those kids that loves the game of baseball and likes to work, says North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe. He did a lot of offseason work in the mornings, and what you're seeing now is some of the benefits from having such a good work ethic.

— Fellow junior Cole Rohrbough had been in line to team with senior Beau Hovland as North's top combo on the mound, but uncharacteristic struggles by Rohrbough created an opportunity Suarez was more than capable of seizing.

Cole's never really struggled, says Suarez, so when I saw that happening, I just thought I had to step up and do something to help the team out.

Suarez's ability to keep teams at bay on the mound and swing a potent bat ever since has helped North Medford gradually climb into a tie for first place in the Southern Oregon Conference with five games to go.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder has a 3-0 record and 1.04 ERA in SOC play, with 33 strikeouts and seven walks in 332/3 innings pitched. He also leads the Tornado with 16 RBIs on 12 hits in conference play, boasting a .343 batting average with three doubles and two triples.

Josh is a great player, says Hovland, who leads North with a 6-2 SOC record. He wasn't picked at the beginning of the year to be a starter, but when his name was called upon, ever since then he's filled that role really well.

All of it has come with a gigantic sigh of relief by Suarez, who is one of several players up from last year's junior varsity squad trying to fit in with the likes of Hovland and senior holdovers Rob Folsom, Russ Vandell, Charlie Behnke and Jeff Adams.

It just feels really great coming through for the team, especially the older guys, says Suarez, who has nine RBIs in the last four games.

Suarez says the two factions of North players (returners and newcomers) struggled to get on the same page earlier in the season, but all that has changed in recent weeks and the Tornado is excited about finishing the season strong.

I feel like we've come together really well as a team, says Suarez, who turns 17 on Monday. Our chemistry is much better now and I think our best games are ahead of us.

Interestingly, it was Suarez's worst game on the mound that found him finally falling in line with a key North veteran.

I think I first started trusting Rob Folsom as a catcher in our loss to Grants Pass (5-4 on April 10) when they hit three home runs off me, says Suarez. Even though I still got those home runs hit off me, it just felt like we were on the same page and it's been like that ever since.

Save the homers and, more importantly, the losses.

I've just tried to keep my composure and hit my spots and let the rest of the guys do what they do best, Suarez says of his approach these days.

North Medford?s Josh Suarez is one of the top pitchers in the Southern Oregon Conference this year.