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Roseburg the team to beat

Indians return bulk of starting lineup; Defending champion Crater tabbed second behind all-stater Davidson

Last season's Southern Oregon Conference softball title race was as predictable down the stretch as a snow storm in July.

Point being, the last two weekends were as unpredictable as the many twists and turns in a well-crafted mystery novel.

Crater had the final say, sweeping in to claim its second straight championship on the season's last day.

Yet Roseburg, the conference leader up until that fateful final afternoon, could defy last year's logic with a strong returning cast that finished runner-up to Crater and reached the Class 4A state title game a season ago.

The majority of SOC coaches agree, tabbing the Indians as the overwhelming favorite this season.

— They've got everybody back, said fourth-year South Medford coach Dan Marshall. Roseburg is the obvious pick because they're a great team.

They're well-coached with a lot of talent. They have it all.

Roseburg received six first-place votes and 36 points, while Crater, behind returning first-team all-state outfielder Kirstin Davidson, picked up the other first-place vote and was chosen second with 31 points.

The fight for the final two of the SOC's four state-playoff spots may also come down to the wire. South Medford was picked third with 23 points to edge out Grants Pass by two. North Medford, riding a streak of 24 straight playoff berths, was tabbed fifth with 19, Eagle Point is sixth with 11 and Ashland rounded out the conference picks with six points.

Roseburg, right now, is the class of the league, says first-year North Medford coach Mike Mayben, who takes over for Missy Doerr. But Crater will be incredible, Grants Pass is a team to reckon with and South Medford will be right up there.

Top to bottom, I think the SOC will be a lot of fun to watch this year.

The favored Indians open up today on the road at Crater. In other games, Eagle Point is at North Medford and Grants Pass visits Ashland. All doubleheaders start at 2:30 p.m.

One noticeable change to the conference slate is the absence of Klamath Union, which didn't field a varsity team this year, leaving the remaining SOC members with a 12-game schedule. South Medford, which was scheduled to open with the Pelicans, receives an opening-day bye.

The Indians boast pitching, defense and enough bats in the lineup to make opposing teams' heads swirl.

That's a heckuva team, says eighth-year Grants Pass coach Clay Rounsaville. All the way around, they are a solid group.

Roseburg lost one starter in first-team, all-state competitor Kim Posey. The Indians, however, return a bevy of talent in reigning co-SOC player of the year Ali Paz at shortstop and pitchers Mikayla Endicott and Jayde Curry.

Our pitching and defense will be very good, says Roseburg coach Tony Campos, whose team is off to an 8-0 start. I think if we hit the ball we should compete with anybody in the state.

The Comets (7-2) boast Davidson, junior pitching sensation Ashleigh Cuddie, who steps in as the ace for Janelle Cristofaro, and a spark-plug lead-off hitter in junior catcher Susan Winningham.

Davidson is one of the more feared hitters in the SOC. She batted .429 with seven RBIs in the cleanup spot last year in league play and helped ignite a run to the state semifinals, Crater's deepest push into the postseason in school history.

The Comets also picked up transfers Emily Morrill (utility) from North Medford, Brittany Reynolds (first base) from Nevada and senior pitcher Whitney McDaniel from Spokane, Wash.

We have some younger kids, says fifth-year Crater coach Chris Arnold, and we have some kids that came here from different schools. Right now we're getting everyone jelling and on the same page.

It's a really talented bunch of athletes.

South Medford has the most to replace in the SOC after losing seven starters to graduation.

The Panthers do return senior pitcher Jill Jeter and her senior battery mate Simone Hubbard. Marissa Towry (senior first baseman) and Colleen Morgan (junior shortstop) also return to the fold.

The nucleus of our club ' Jeter, Hubbard, Morgan and Towry ' are back, says Marshall. I think we have some strong younger kids to step in and do a nice job.

Speaking of young, Grants Pass has a lineup chalked full of first-year players.

The Cavers have just three seniors on the roster, but all three should make a major impact.

Seniors Allie Farmer (third base), Iris Woodhead (second base) and Kim Gonzales (center field) are joined by fellow starter sophomore pitcher Chelsea Chamberlain. Those four and the seven freshmen and two juniors in the lineup may be somewhat untested in league play but are a dangerous bunch.

We lost a lot of quality players, says Rounsaville, but I've been so impressed the way some of these younger kids have stepped in and played at a high level.

For North Medford, reaching a 25th consecutive postseason won't be a sure thing.

The Black Tornado has first-team all-SOC center fielder Katie Gould to bolster a speedy lineup. North, however, must replace the consistent pitching of Kendra Strahm ' now pitching for Linfield ' and find a way to offset the loss of four-time all-league competitor Deni Rowley, who is currently leading Southern Oregon University in hitting.

There are some big shoes to fill, says Mayben. I think we have the kids to do it.

Senior Tiffany Schmelzer moves into Rowley's role at short, while senior Erica Sanders, sophomore Kandice Hallett and freshman Taylor Schmidt get a crack on the mound.

Mayben, like some of his younger players, will be learning SOC tendencies on the fly as a newcomer to the game of softball.

I'm still learning the game and what pitchers can do to control the flow of the game, says Mayben, a 1994 North graduate, who played baseball collegiately at Western Baptist and has some coaching experience with the Southern Oregon RiverDogs amateur baseball team. It's a different game with a faster pace to it.

I have great kids on the team that have taught me some things and I'm surrounded by great coaches to help me learn more, adds Mayben.

Eagle Point looks to replace standout pitcher Kelsey Heider with the experienced arm of junior Kirsten Emigh.

The Eagles, who return the second-highest number of starters with seven, also welcome back junior shortstop Dawn Wilkerson and senior catcher Amanda Hamner.

Sophomore pitcher Ashley Josephson highlights a list of strong newcomers for Eagle Point.

Ashland, behind first-year coach Misty Potochnik, hopes to bounce back from an 0-14 campaign in the SOC a year ago.

The Grizzlies are led by senior center fielder Bailey Hasty and freshman pitcher Bella Pribyl, who has shown promise in nonconference play.

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483 or e-mail Roseburg the team to beat "kgoff@mailtribune.com.ROSEBURG

COACH:

Tony Campos (fourth year)

LAST YEAR: 22-7, 11-3 SOC

CURRENT RECORD: 8-0

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Ali PazSSSr.

Brandi Campos2BJr.

Ashley Roy3BSr.

Bryttny KreshkaRFSr.

Tanya JohnstonCJr.

Kristen HarrisCFSr.

Jasmine Crowe1BSo.

Jayde CurryPSr.

Mikayla EndicottPSo.

OTHER NOTABLES

Tasha BishopLFJr.

Rachelle HedgesOFSr.

Ashley YraguenDHSr.

Nikki BassettDHFr.

AT A GLANCE: How do you top a runner-up finish at state? The obvious answer is by winning the state title. But Roseburg, which lost just one starter from last year's team, has another goal in mind after losing out on the SOC title. The girls certainly made a goal of winning the SOC title, says Tony Campos. That's not an easy thing to do and they realize how tough it's going to be. ... Pitching and defense will again be the strength of the Indians, Campos says. Curry and Endicott should form one of the toughest pitching combinations in the SOC. Endicott, who had four straight wins in the state playoffs last season, will be the No. — starter. ... Paz, the co-SOC player of the year, should be a front-runner again for the award. She's just very, very consistent, says Campos of his four-year starting shortstop. She's a natural. Everything she does, even with the bat, amazes me. ... Kreshka and Roy have been solid in nonconference at the plate, while Brandi Campos, the team's lead-off hitter, has belted two home runs. ... The seven seniors on the roster is tops in the SOC. ... Roseburg averaged 10 hits over its final four nonconference games.

CRATER

COACH:

Chris Arnold (fifth year)

LAST YEAR: 25-4, 12-2 SOC

CURRENT RECORD: 7-2

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Kirstin DavidsonCFSr.

Susan WinninghamCJr.

Kristen HagaRF/2BJr.

Haley HevernSSJr.

Ashleigh CuddiePJr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Becca LokenoCJr.

Emily MorrillUTSo.

Whitney McDaniel3B/PSr.

Brittany Reynolds1BSr.

Ashleigh Larson1B/2BSo.

Amanda BatesOFSo.

Breyanna ReedPSo.

Kara PerdueUTSo.

AT A GLANCE: Crater lost one of the SOC's most dominant pitchers in Janelle Cristofaro. Returning, however, is Cuddie, who went 5-0 last season and showed glimpses of what could be another strong arm in a long line of quality pitchers for the Comets. Ashleigh is certainly willing to step into that role, says Arnold. She wants the ball. It's so difficult to step in and pitch both games of a doubleheader. ... Cuddie will be joined on the mound by McDaniel, a transfer from Spokane, Wash., and Reed, both whom have shown potential in nonconference play. ... Winningham, with her exceptional speed and strong discipline at the plate, is again penciled in as a leadoff hitter after being a major sparkplug for the Comets last year. ... Hevern moved from second base to shortstop to replace all-leaguer Tyler Sutherland. Hevern, already solid with the glove, put in a lot of work in the offseason to improve her bat skills, Arnold says. ... Willingham will get the bulk of the catching duties but Lokeno should get some time behind the plate. The two split time at the position last year. ... Crater's semifinal run a year ago was the deepest in school history.

SOUTH MEDFORD

COACH:

Dan Marshall (fourth year)

LAST YEAR: 15-8, 9-5 SOC

CURRENT RECORD: 1-2

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Simone HubbardCSr.

Jill JeterPSr.

Marissa Towry1BSr.

Colleen MorganSSJr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Kinzie Towry3BSo.

McKenzie BoteilhoPJr.

Alyssa Dixon2BJr.

Raelena RolieOFJr.

Kira VandergriffOFSo.

Jessica MondalePFr.

Dominique NewmanPFr.

Courtney GuchesOFSo.

Kourtney BishopOFFr.

Samantha MatareseOFFr.

Nikki StevensINF/OFFr.

AT A GLANCE: South Medford was hit the hardest in the SOC by graduation, losing seven starters. Marshall, however, has reloaded with speed and a deep pitching staff. It's tough to replace some of those kids, says Marshall. We can replace it with talent, but they are young and untested. ... Leading the list of four returning starters is Hubbard, a second-teamer last season, and Jeter, the most polished returning hurler in the SOC. Marissa Towry and Morgan also return. To lose the starters we did is tough, says Marshall. But I'm happy with the nucleus of returners we have back. ... Boteilho, Mondale and Newman will also see time pitching. Mondale is definitely one to look for, says Marshall. She throws hard and has a ton of potential. ... Dixon, a junior second baseman, is one of the quicker South players. She'll lead off in the order. Hubbard will bat third, while Marissa Towry is in cleanup and Jeter, who was DH'd for last season, hits fifth. ... The Panthers boast a strong freshmen class, with 13 first-year high school players spread over the junior varsity and varsity squads.

GRANTS PASS

COACH:

Clay Rounsaville (eighth year)

LAST YEAR: 12-11, 6-8 SOC

CURRENT RECORD: 6-1-1

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Iris Woodhead2BSr.

Allie FarmerDH/3BSr.

Chelsea ChamberlainPSo.

OTHER NOTABLES

Kim GonzalesCFSr.

Nicole CeredaOFJr.

Denise RunnelsSSJr.

Cami Bennett2BFr.

Heather CeredaOFFr.

Brittany PardueCFr.

Jessica PardueUTFr.

Karleigh PrestianniP/1BFr.

Lindy SippolaSSFr.

Emily WoolfCFr.

AT A GLANCE: Despite having seven freshmen, Grants Pass has already turned some heads. The Cavers won a tournament in Redding, Calif., by beating two quality teams in West Valley and Lassen. But, showing their youth, the Cavers came back and dropped a 10-1 decision to West Salem. For having such a young team, says Rounsaville, I was very impressed with the Redding wins. But then we kinda come down to Earth a little in that West Salem game. You'll get that with a lot of the more inexperienced teams. ... Farmer, one of three returning seniors, has missed the preseason with a back injury but should return soon. She was a second-team all-SOC third baseman last season. ... The Cavers will live and die by the pitching of Chamberlain, Rounsaville says. The sophomore hurler finished 9-8 last season and returns as the ace of the staff. ... Rounsaville is high on Woolf at catcher. She could be one of the best catchers we've had in a long, long time, he says. She's off to a very good start for us. ... Gonzales is a track star that played sparingly last season. The senior has only two years of experience but possesses lightning-quick speed, Rounsaville says.

NORTH MEDFORD

COACH:

Mike Mayben (first year)

LAST YEAR: 16-11, 8-6 SOC

CURRENT RECORD: 3-1

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Katie GouldCFJr.

Jessica Sandoval1BSr.

Tiffany SchmelzerSSSr.

Amanda Volgarino3BJr.

Kandice HallettPSo.

OTHER NOTABLES

Paulina Swenson2BJr.

Kaci SevanoCJr.

Erica SandersPSr.

Kayla StrahmLFSo.

Justine SandovalOFSo.

Alana CoronadoRFFr.

Patty ChavezUTJr.

Kassie ChoiDHSo.

Taylor SchmidtP/DHFr.

AT A GLANCE: Mayben enters his first year with an abundance of talent, although unproven. The Black Tornado must rely on the inexperienced mix to mesh quickly with the few returning starters in order to stay on track for the school's 25th-straight trip to the postseason. We're pretty balanced, says Mayben. We're a little young with only three seniors, but all of the girls will play a major role in what we want to do. ... Sanders takes over for current Linfield University freshman Kendra Strahm as the team's pitching ace. The senior took last season off while battling a nagging back injury, which is still not fully healed. Erica's playing through some pain, Mayben says. She's a very mentally equipped pitcher. Hallett, who has the most varsity experience of the three pitchers, is fighting some tendinitis. She and Schmidt will also see time. ... Schmelzer steps in at shortstop after playing left field last season. She takes over the infield role from four-time all-SOC first-teamer Deni Rowley. ... Gould, a returning first-team all-SOC competitor, will play center field and bat leadoff again for the Tornado.

EAGLE POINT

COACH:

Jackie Auchard (third year)

LAST YEAR: 15-7, 7-7 SOC

CURRENT RECORD: 6-3

RETURNING STARTERS

PlayerPos.Yr.

Dawn WilkersonSSJr.

Amanda HamnerCSr.

Kirsten EmighP/CFJr.

Carissa SchaufflerOFJr.

Brittney GriggsOFSr.

Tenielle Anderson1BJr.

Brooke GriggsCJr.

OTHER NOTABLES

Ashley JosephsonPSo.

Ashley Hartman2BJr.

Kayla MathisRFSo.

Trinity Hamner3BJr.

Nikki DavisSSSo.

Christine HayesUTJr.

Katie Jolliffe3BSo.

AT A GLANCE: The last two seasons finished with Eagle Point on the doorstep of a state playoff berth. Despite significant personnel losses, Auchard hopes her third year is the charm. Right now I think we're looking good, says the coach, whose team returns just two seniors. It's always different getting a bunch of different girls every year. We're working out the kinks but I think these girls will do just fine. ... Emigh steps in as the Eagles' pitching ace in place of departed hurler Kelsey Heider. Kirsten is in great shape, says Auchard. I have no problem giving her the ball for both games (of a doubleheader) if we need to. Her velocity is staying steady throughout both games (in nonconference). Emigh is the No. — but sophomore Josephson could also see some time on the hill. ... Josephson and Anderson provide plenty of pop in the middle of the lineup. Josephson smacked two home runs in the opening game of a doubleheader against West Albany, while Emigh and Mathis also carry a big stick. ... Eagle Point opens up with North Medford, a team it finished one game behind last season.

Crater?s Kristin Davidson is a returning first-team all-state player from last year?s champion Comet team. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell