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Anything can happen in unpredictable SOC

A 21-game Southern Oregon Conference baseball schedule was supposed to allow teams to distance themselves from one another and ensure a true champion.

Through 16 games, however, parity has reigned, leaving something that may be of more interest to the casual baseball fan.

With two doubleheaders and a single Tuesday encounter to go, North Medford and South Medford are tied atop the SOC standings, while seventh-place Roseburg is only two games out of third place in the logjam that is the SOC playoff race.

Everybody's been real impressive at times and been disappointed at the end of some weekends, too, says South Medford head coach Steve Antich. It's going to be fun to see what happens over these next five games.

North and South have a considerable advantage with 12-4 conference records (each is 16-5 overall), but neither team is willing to consider itself a lock for one of the SOC's four playoff berths.

— The Black Tornado has road doubleheaders left against Ashland (8-8 SOC) and Klamath Union (7-9 SOC) and a home tilt with Crater (8-8 SOC).

South plays host to the Pelicans in a doubleheader at 11 a.m. today and has Grants Pass (8-8 SOC) and the Comets still to go.

We realize it's not over by a long shot, says North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe. We're going to have to battle. Baseball's a strange game; you've gotta come to play every day.

That goes double for one of the five teams jammed in the middle of the standings. Each has a chance to control its own future with a late winning streak.

That's what's going to make it really interesting down the stretch, says Antich. Everyone behind us is still in it, so those guys are battling, and every win is do-or-die for them, too. Nothing's going to be easy.

No team depicts the unpredictable nature of the SOC this season more than Roseburg. Only a week ago, the Indians appeared to just be playing out the schedule at 3-10 in league.

A twin-bill sweep of Grants Pass and a victory over Ashland, however, and suddenly Roseburg stands 6-10 in league with a pitching staff few want to face and a lineup of hitters capable of scoring runs on anyone.

I wouldn't be surprised if at the end, they somehow were able to sneak in there, Antich says. At this point, anything looks like it could happen.

Grants Pass was another team that appeared on life support until a few days ago, when the Cavemen received a boost with the return of pitching ace Nolan Morgan. The right-hander was believed to be lost for the season with a broken right wrist, but X-rays showed the bone fragment that created the initial concern was actually from an injury suffered in eighth grade.

Thanks to physical therapy and reduced swelling, Morgan has been able to regain full motion in his wrist and jumped back on the mound Tuesday for an eight-inning victory. Head coach Stacy Morgan says his nephew still feels discomfort swinging the bat, so Nolan Morgan will be relegated to pitching for the time being.

I'd say that's better than the alternative, adds the GP coach. Obviously, it gives us a big boost to have him back with us.

Now the Cavemen have to do it on the field.

If we don't take care of ourselves, it doesn't matter what anybody else does, says Stacy Morgan. It's not about other people right now, it's gotta be about us.

Another injury that possibly could shake up the stretch run is the one suffered by South Medford ace Tim Holtz on Tuesday. Holtz was hit on the elbow by a pitch, and his return to the lineup won't be known for another few days.

Initial X-rays revealed a bone chip and no fracture but, like Nolan Morgan, it's not clear if the chip was already there. Once the swelling subsides, Antich says, Holtz will see a specialist to determine the extent of the injury.

It's going to be more difficult, to say the least, without Tim, Antich says of the Panthers' pursuit of the school's first SOC baseball crown. We have a lot of guys you'd hate to lose, but Tim was the one guy who did the most things for us. Losing him has a domino effect because now we're looking at replacing our top pitcher, our third baseman and our No. 4 or 5 hitter.

While South focuses on reshaping its lineup, North hopes to maintain a hot streak in which it has won five straight and seven of its last eight games.

Our team's coming along strong, says Hovland. The younger guys are stepping up, and that's good to know coming into the end of the season. We're pretty confident right now.

Of course, all that can change with one pitch in the topsy-turvy SOC.

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