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South's no-fly zone

Starting outfielders Chancler, O'Neill and Boyd have been pivotal to the Panthers' success

For most baseball teams, having an outfielder camp under a lazy fly ball is considered routine.

For South Medford, a routine play by one of its starting outfielders adopts an entirely different concept.

Thanks to the athleticism of senior Corey O'Neill and juniors Dan Chancler and Logan Boyd, no fly ball is safe with these gloved wonders roaming the outfield.

Those guys are the backbone of the team, says South Medford head coach Steve Antich. We expect big things from all of them. You get spoiled having those guys out there (in the outfield).

Soaring shot to the gap? No problem.

— Sinking liner? No problem.

Blast to the warning track? Don't bother.

We have high expectations out there, says O'Neill, who is the group's leader in center field. If we lay out for a ball and don't catch it, then we blame ourselves. Everything should be caught in our eyes.

We try to keep it from being an average hit, adds the senior. We try to make it an average out. Anything they hit out there we try to make them earn it.

And few have against a Panther outfield that exhibits better tracking qualities than Doppler radar.

They're all athletic and when you have that, you can do a lot, says South assistant Mike Beagle, who works mainly with the outfielders. We feel blessed to be able to work with guys who are that athletic. It makes coaching easy. Plus they're all good people and fun to work with.

While running down baseballs sent to the gap or laying out for a diving catch may look cool, it also serves an important purpose for South, which boasts a school-record 19 wins overall and is 15-4 in Southern Oregon Conference play heading into today's final doubleheader with Crater at Miles Field.

It's real comforting when you're on the mound to know we have them out there, says South ace Tim Holtz, who is equally confident with the Panther infield. If I'm not having the greatest day in the world and they're hitting the ball hard, I know the outfield's going to be there for me or any pitcher we have out there.

While a spectacular out can be a pitcher's best friend, the trio goes one better with its production at the plate.

Despite missing last season due to injury, Boyd leads the team with a .418 batting average in SOC play to go with 11 RBIs and 19 runs scored. Chancler is hitting .387 with 17 runs and five RBIs in league, while O'Neill is hitting .339 with 14 RBIs, 17 runs and a team-high nine doubles.

While the Panthers are far from a three-man team, O'Neill, Chancler and Boyd have been pivotal in setting the tone for South's offense.

I feel like either out in the field or at the plate I can make an impact, says Chancler, who joined O'Neill as a first-team all-SOC outfielder last season. And both Corey and Logan up at the plate are incredible. They both can put up big numbers every time out.

Much like in the outfield, the Panther trio complements one another at the plate. O'Neill is a switch-hitting leadoff batter, while Chancler may be South's toughest out batting righty in the third spot and Boyd provides both power and patience in the cleanup position from the left side.

Defensively, Beagle says Boyd carries the strongest arm of the bunch, while Chancler is the fastest player on the team and O'Neill gets the best read on the ball coming off the bat.

The rest of the attributes are divvied up amongst the group.

Dan just loves playing baseball, says Boyd. He's great in the outfield and gets along with everybody. Dan's just Dan. He's just a good all-around kid.

Corey's a baseball guy. He knows what he has to do to get the job done and has got that winning attitude. He's a competitor and wants to win, and when he doesn't, you don't want to be around him.

Somewhere in the middle is Boyd, who admits to being the biggest talker of the fun-loving bunch.

Logan has the best mentality of the game, says O'Neill. He knows when to slide headfirst, knows when to lay down a bunt or do whatever it takes. He'll lay down a bunt after he goes yard; he just does smart things like that to help us out.

A little bit of each has rubbed off on the rest of the Panthers, who have cashed in a never-say-die attitude into the highest finish in school history and the first state-playoff berth since 1999.

The M.O. of our team is picking each other up, says Boyd. If I'm not having a good game, (Tyler) Heil or (Allen Smith) or Timmy (Holtz) or Corey or Dan or somebody is picking me up. That's just how it goes. If someone's not having a good game, we always have someone else step in to pick them up.

And that may be the only routine thing about the Panthers.

South Medford?s Logan Boyd, left, Corey O?Neill, center, and Dan Chancler have been pivotal in setting the tone for the Panther offense and defense. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell