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SOC baseball Preview

Aces wild in Roseburg

Preparing for the earliest opening of the Southern Oregon Conference baseball season has been a chore thus far for the eight league coaches.

Targeting an early favorite in the SOC race was not.

Armed with the return of all-state left-hander Blake Keitzman and right-hander Eric Thompson, Roseburg was the unanimous pick to don the favorite's role heading into what should be an intriguing SOC campaign.

The Indians received all seven of their possible first-place votes for 49 points in the preseason coaches' poll, with South Medford picking up their other first-place vote to edge North Medford for second place, 40-38.

They've just got so much pitching, I don't know how you can not make (Roseburg) the favorite, says Crater's Jay Campbell, who is one of three first-year coaches in the SOC. Good pitching is going to beat good hitting, and I'd put those two kids (Keitzman and Thompson) up in Roseburg against anybody in the state.

— That sentiment was echoed around the league, although Roseburg coach Troy Thompson isn't as convinced his team is that far ahead of any other heading into today's openers.

Honestly, I don't think there's a real clearcut top four teams, says the fourth-year coach. I think there's probably six or seven teams that can be a playoff contender.

The Comets were picked to nab that fourth and final playoff spot with 32 points, followed by Grants Pass (24). Ashland and Eagle Point each tied for sixth with 17 points apiece, followed by Klamath Union (7).

In today's single-game openers, Ashland will play South Medford at Ashland High, Roseburg will play host to North Medford, Crater travels to Grants Pass and Eagle Point is at KU.

Never have we started this early, North coach Brett Wolfe says of opening before Spring Break. It really puts us all in a bind.

Keitzman was the SOC's player of the year last season thanks to his dominance on the mound as well as his steady play in center field and at the plate as the Indians' leadoff batter. The left-hander, who has signed to play at Oregon State, can reach the mid-80s on the radar gun and has pinpoint accuracy to go with his knee-buckling offspeed pitches.

He's done a great job for us on the mound and at the plate for the past three seasons at the varsity level, says Troy Thompson. As a senior, he'll continue to get those chances and I'm sure will welcome the challenge.

The same could be said for the rest of the Indians, who will rely on second-team all-SOC pitcher Eric Thompson and all-conference returners Brett Stephens and Mitchell Nelson to bolster a lineup that lost its top three run producers to graduation.

It's nothing we're going to concern ourselves with, Troy Thompson says of being tabbed the SOC favorite. We're going to go out and try to improve ourselves by playing good baseball, and hopefully our young guys will play well and we can jell together as a team.

The same could be said for every team in the SOC, with just about every squad boasting its share of all-conference returners to offset an equal amount of holes needing to be filled.

South Medford will look to maintain its recent surge under fifth-year coach Steve Antich, who has led the Panthers to the state playoffs the past two seasons.

That's where we'd like to think we are now, Antich says of competing for the playoffs each season. We've worked hard to get up there toward the top and certainly don't want to take a step backwards.

South returns first-team all-SOC players Ben Koziol (catcher) and Jared Adamson (shortstop), and all-conference players Mark Austad (second base), Griff Boyd (pitcher) and Eric Mobbs (outfielder).

Despite his freshman status last year, Boyd was one of the rare pitchers in the SOC to win a head-to-head matchup with Keitzman. Boyd led the Panthers with his 5-0 record and 0.29 ERA last year.

Adamson hit .412 with a team-high 25 RBIs last year for South, which also returns Ryan Odell, Tommy George and Rick Imhausen, although an arm injury will keep him from taking the mound.

At North, senior first baseman Abe Eubank will look to provide stability to a young Black Tornado lineup that features a host of returners on the infield but inexperience on the mound.

Eubank, a first-team all-state selection, hit .468 with an .870 slugging percentage and a team-high 31 RBIs to pace North last year.

Also returning to the fold for North are all-conference picks Tony Salamone (left field) and Darren Bruhns (catcher), as well as infielders Zack James and Dustin Shipley and right fielder Logan Odom.

I just see this as an opportunity for us, says Wolfe. We're not going to be the top dog, which is fine. I like being the underdog.

The same bodes true for the likes of Crater, Grants Pass and Ashland. The Comets and Grizzlies each return their core group of players, while the Cavemen boasts standout pitcher Ben Murray and outfielder Craig Dolmage.

Thanks to Crater's fine showing toward the end of last season and over the summer, the Comets could evolve into a key player in the title chase. They return almost their entire lineup from last season's fifth-place team, including first-team all-SOC utility player Tyler Schmidt.

Under Campbell, the same returners were instrumental in helping the program take third at last summer's American Legion A state tournament.

They've come in real focused, almost like we didn't have this lapse in time, says Campbell. They've come in pretty much like where we left off last summer.

At Eagle Point, Rob Cowden takes over for Tom Britton and returns standouts Derek Grieve, Nick Staller and Shasta Bateman on the mound, while Matt Miles is taking over the reigns at Klamath Union.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail SOC baseball Preview "khenry@mailtribune.com.ROSEBURG

COACH: Troy Thompson (fourth year).

LAST YEAR: 23-6, 19-2 SOC.

CURRENT RECORD: 0-0.

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Blake KeitzmanP/CFSr.

Eric ThompsonP/IFSr.

Mitchell NelsonLFSr.

Mickey SchmordeRFSr.

Brett StephensUtilSr.

Tyler Bentley1BSr.

Justin BruggemanCSr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Randy Summers3B/PSr.

Chad SheinerPSr.

Scott AllredIF/PJr.

Justin CountsP/OFJr.

Kyle HansenCJr.

John Tommasini2BJr.

Boone FarringtonSSSo.

AT A GLANCE: Roseburg may have graduated its top three run producers, but the Indians still have plenty of firepower to lean on in leadoff hitter Keitzman and returners Schmorde, Nelson, Stephens and Bentley. We're not going to be a team that's going to hit home runs and do those things, says Troy Thompson, noting team speed is the main plus for his squad. We might have a player or two who can do that, but this year we'll have to rely on more good hitters who can put the ball in play and go gap to gap. ... Summers, a transfer, is penciled in as Roseburg's No. — pitcher behind Keitzman and Eric Thompson. Counts is a lefty who joins Sheiner and Allred in providing some relief should the top three need a break. ... The biggest issue for the Indians will be in fine-tuning an inexperienced infield that saw Stephens split time around the diamond and Bentley start a handful of games last year. Tommasini and Farrington are the leading candidates up the middle, although Stephens could be called upon for either spot. Summers is a fit at third base, while Allred can fill all three spots.

SOUTH MEDFORD

COACH: Steve Antich (fifth year).

LAST YEAR: 19-8, 15-6 SOC.

CURRENT RECORD: 1-0.

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Jared AdamsonSS/3BSr.

Ben KoziolCSr.

Ryan OdellSS/3B/PSr.

Tommy GeorgePSr.

Mark Austad2B/OFSr.

Rick Imhausen1BSr.

Griffin BoydP/1BSo.

OTHER NOTABLES

Kelly KlineLF/CFSr.

Dane HappenyRF/CFSr.

Zach WilsonIF/OF/PSr.

Taylor ComfordLFJr.

Trent Smith2BJr.

Jared SmithP/IFJr.

Zach RobinsonPJr.

AT A GLANCE: South Medford has already faced its share of adversity with the loss of standout pitchers Imhausen and Kenny Licea, as well as a wrist injury that has Austad out for two more weeks. Imhausen will still be able to contribute from the plate, but more will be asked of George, Boyd and Odell on the mound for the Panthers to earn their third straight bid to the state playoffs. ... Adamson and Odell help solidify the left side of the infield, with Koziol returning behind the plate for the third straight season. Smith has stepped in well for Austad at second, while Imhausen and Boyd are a solid 1-2 punch at first base. ... After being blessed with all-SOC returners in the outfield the past few seasons, South starts over with the likes of Comford, Kline, Happeny and Wilson. We've had a luxury of having some three-year starters, says Antich, but the guys who are out there can all get the job done. ... South will continue to play at North Medford High until the first week of April, when the new Harry & David Baseball Park is finally cleared for use. The holdup has been in getting proper permits so the access road can be paved.

NORTH MEDFORD

COACH: Brett Wolfe (12th year).

LAST YEAR: 20-7, 15-6 SOC.

CURRENT RECORD: 1-0.

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Abe Eubank1BSr.

Zack James2BSr.

Dustin Shipley3B/OF/SSSr.

Tony SalamoneLFSr.

Darren BruhnsCJr.

Logan OdomRF/PJr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Trevor McCleeryPSr.

Andrew BennettRFSo.

Zach EarleSSSo.

Tyler LakeSSJr.

Andrew JonesPSo.

Shea BedorthaP/1BJr.

A.J. NicholsCFSr.

Michael LongmireC/OFSr.

Aaron Marlia3BJr.

Kyle LamsonIFJr.

AT A GLANCE: Solid pitching has been a staple of Wolfe's program over the years, but the Black Tornado is as inexperienced on the mound as it has ever been. Only McCleery (202/3 innings) and Odom (13 innings) saw varsity action last season. I know they haven't gotten a lot of experience and maybe aren't as dominant as we've had, says Wolfe, but all of those guys will keep it close and give us an opportunity to win. ... Another difference on the mound is that North boasts no left-handers for the first time since 1999. ... Buoyed by the return of Eubank, James, Shipley and Bruhns, the infield is solid. Earle is a solid prospect at shortstop, with Marlia very capable of covering the hot corner. ... The outfield is versatile with speedy Salamone, Nichols, Bennett and Shipley joining power-hitter Odom to give Wolfe plenty of options. ... North's offense could be even more potent this season. We lost some experience, says Wolfe, but with the kids we have coming back, offensively I don't think we're going to miss a beat.

CRATER

COACH: Jay Campbell (first year).

LAST YEAR: 13-13, 10-11 SOC.

CURRENT RECORD: 0-0.

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Tyler Schmidt1BSr.

Charlie ReinaCJr.

Chris ThomasP/IFJr.

Chuckie Grabowski3BSr.

Cory StaniforthSSJr.

Tyler DavisCFJr.

Josh Surgeon2BJr.

Tony DavidsonPSr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Josh ZeleckiPSr.

Dan LovemarkC/P/DHSr.

Jessie WarrenOFJr.

Tony MurphyOFSr.

Matt HuntOFJr.

Cooper SchmelzerOFJr.

AT A GLANCE: No team in the SOC returns as many starters as Crater, which should bode well for a program aiming to snap a two-year state playoff drought. ... Campbell and Jim Powell essentially swapped roles in the offseason after Campbell's two years as Powell's assistant. I think it's been a real smooth transition for the boys, says Campbell. ... The Comets boast an experienced three-man rotation in right-handers Thomas, Davidson and Zelecki. I wouldn't say we have a definite No. — guy, says Campbell, because all three of them can win on a given day. We're going to ride those three guys that pitch and probably go as far as they can get us. ... Grabowski and Schmidt man the corners and the Nos. — and 4 spots in the batting order, respectively. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Schmidt packs a wallop at the plate and is a legitimate HR threat. ... Reina and Staniforth are steady performers and should provide RBI opportunities for their teammates. ... Davis is the only lock in the outfield, with a bevy of others vying for the corner spots. Campbell says the players with the hot bats are most likely to get the nod.

GRANTS PASS

COACH: Stacy Morgan (18th year).

LAST YEAR: 16-12, 13-8 SOC.

CURRENT RECORD: 0-2.

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Ben MurrayP/3B/SSSr.

Craig DolmageP/CFJr.

Mitch GarciaCSr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Page MorganLFJr.

Tim SaboP/RFSr.

Sean O'BrienSSJr.

Ryan Fauver3BJr.

Casey AlbrightIFSo.

Justin WoolfOFJr.

Casey O'RoarkOFSr.

Zach Morgan2B/PSo.

Buddy Saxon1B/CSo.

Eric StewartOFSo.

AT A GLANCE: Grants Pass advanced to the semifinals last season as the No. 4 seed out of the SOC, thanks in large part to Murray's pitching, a host of senior leaders and the steady play of Dolmage and Garcia. ... Murray tore ligaments and a tendon in his ankle in January and just shed his walking boot last week. His quick return to form will be vital for GP. His bat and his leadership ability will go a long ways for us, says Stacy Morgan. ... Fellow right-handers Dolmage, Sabo and Zach Morgan, the coach's son, will also be asked to carry the load on the mound, although only Dolmage saw varsity action last year. ... The infield is inexperienced but not without talent. O'Brien, who will bat in the leadoff spot, will see the majority of time at shortstop, although Murray may be in the picture when not pitching. We're real young but we're athletic and we'll play hard, says the coach. ... The speedy Dolmage moves over to center field and has incredible range, with Page Morgan, the coach's nephew, in left field and Sabo in right field. ... The biggest question involves how the newcomers will step up at the plate after watching last year's senior-dominated lineup rack up big numbers.

ASHLAND

COACH: Don Senestraro (second year).

LAST YEAR: 6-20, 4-17 SOC.

CURRENT RECORD: 2-0.

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Robbie BruceCSr.

Wes DoddsSSSr.

Gus GaviglioP/1BJr.

Justin Meza3BJr.

Aaron San NicholasP/RFSr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Tyson Senestraro2BJr.

Sheldon CottsLFJr.

John GoldbergCFSr.

Max GordonRFSo.

Sam GaviglioP/1BSo.

Matt DierksUtilSo.

Tyler KilleenPSo.

Louis SebrellCFr.

AT A GLANCE: Second-year coach Don Senestraro coyly says his team's motto will be taking it one pitch at a time. With returners at several key positions, it's not hard to see that the Grizzlies are certainly optimistic about this season. ... Gus Gaviglio and San Nicholas return to the mound, and will get help from Tyler Killeen and Sam Gaviglio to supply Ashland with ample firepower at that key spot. San Nicholas is the hardest thrower in the bunch, although both Gaviglios can bring it, while lone lefty Killeen is crafty and consistently around the plate. ... Dodds and Tyson Senestraro turned 22 double plays during the legion season and anchor the infield with Bruce. ... Goldberg returns from a stint at Phoenix and will give the Grizzlies a potent 1-2 punch at the plate with Meza. Goldberg's just a tremendous hitter, says the coach. He's got a gift, and Meza's right there with him. ... Gordon and Tyson Senestraro will be asked to set the table for the big boppers, with San Nicholas capable of thriving in the fifth-hole. ... Goldberg is the backbone in center, but Cotts boasts a steady glove and strong arm and Gordon is quick and dependable in right.

EAGLE POINT

COACH: Rob Cowden (first year).

LAST YEAR: 6-20, 3-18 SOC.

CURRENT RECORD: 1-1.

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Derek GrieveP/RFSr.

Nick StallerSS/PSr.

Shasta BatemanP/1BSr.

Sam Birch1B/3BSr.

Logan Fosenburg3B/OFJr.

Johnny Harvey2B/CJr.

Francisco ArandaOFJr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Mychal WilliamsCFSr.

Ryan SmithOF/PSo.

Darin AdamsCSo.

Aaron Willis3B/PJr.

Rob HullaC/OFSr.

Ben Charlton2BSo.

AT A GLANCE: Armed with the return of leading pitchers Grieve, Staller and Bateman, Eagle Point is far from a pushover despite their predicted sixth-place finish. Staller is the hardest thrower in the bunch, with Bateman's awkward delivery capable of causing problems and Grieve boasting the most polished mound resume of the trio. Those three guys are going to be our horses, says Cowden, who coached the JV last year and was an assistant under Tom Britton eight years prior. ... Smith is the only left-handed pitcher in the bunch, and joins Fosenburg and Willis in giving EP solid depth on the mound. ... Cowden has put a big emphasis on getting the Eagles to demand more of themselves after finishing last in the SOC the past five seasons. ... Staller, Birch, Grieve and Hulla bolster the meat of EP's batting order, with Harvey serving as the catalyst in the leadoff spot. ... Williams is making his return to the diamond for the first time since his Little League days, but gives the Eagles an athletic presence in center field. ... Grieve's days at catcher at over, with Cowden aiming to clear up roster moves and get players used to being in as steady of a lineup as possible.

KLAMATH UNION

COACH: Matt Miles (first year).

LAST YEAR: 6-20, 5-16 SOC.

CURRENT RECORD: 0-2.

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Adam Cornachione3B/PSr.

Bucko WillhiteSSSr.

Aaron MontgomeryCF/PJr.

Mark CruzCSr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Vic MatthewsP/OFSr.

Mark BrooksLF/PSo.

Cougar Cruz2BSo.

Jake Waardenburg1B/PSo.

Brent McCartyUtilJr.

Mike RamirezP/IFJr.

Steve Meng1B/OFSr.

Kevin Maloney1B/DHJr.

Ryan BrayOFSo.

AT A GLANCE: In his first season with KU, Miles inherits a team short on experience with only four returning starters. The 1988 Pelican grad comes over from Henley, where he has been an assistant football coach the past three years. ... Montgomery, a right-hander, tossed 32 innings last year and is the only experienced Pelican pitcher returning. Matthews broke his wrist during the preseason last year but is penciled in with Brooks and Ramirez to provide depth. ... At 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds, No. 2 right-hander Waardenburg might have the most potential of the bunch with his low-80s fastball and penchant for being around the plate. The sophomore, who allowed three hits with six strikeouts in five innings at Bend, is also expected to hit in the cleanup spot. ... Cornachione serves as the closer, No. 3-hole hitter and is a vacuum at third base. ... Willhite weighs in at 135 pounds but ranges well at short and hits over .300 ... Pelicans hit only .210 as a team last year, so key will be ability to put the ball in play more this time around. ... We'll give people a challenge just like (the Pelicans) have the last few years, says Miles. There's a lot of potential there.

South Medford?s Jared Adamson leads the Panthers, ranked second in the SOC preseason coaches poll, into the 2006 season. South opens with Ashland today at Ashland High. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli