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Rogues eye more success after recording best-ever start to season

Through their first 24 games, no Medford Rogues team has enjoyed as much success as the one Bill Rowe is currently coaching.

They’ve gone about their record-setting start in a variety of ways — blowout wins, walk-off wins and nail-biting wins with little room to spare. You name it, they’ve done it.

And no matter how those wins have come and how much their skipper has had to sweat it as a result, Rowe is certainly enjoying the ride that comes with the best-ever start to a Rogues season.

“It’s the kind of thing where I tell everybody, ‘Good teams have magic. It’s luck and it’s magic and you develop that through culture’ — and I think that’s what we have going on right now,” Rowe said. “It’s a lot of fun to win. With baseball, the way that you’re acting when you win is not when you’re tested. When you’re tested is when things happen when you lose or adversity happens, so in baseball you’re always preparing for how you’re going to respond when stuff doesn’t go your way.”

With their 21-3 record entering Tuesday night’s series opener against the Lincoln Potters at Harry & David Field, the Rogues eclipsed the previous best-ever start to a season this past weekend with a doubleheader sweep of the California Bees. The 2019 Rogues began the season with a 20-3 record, ending the summer 39-14 and finishing second in the Golden State Collegiate Baseball League.

That 2019 team, on which Rowe was an assistant coach, also set the franchise record for consecutive wins with 13.

The Rogues carried a nine-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s game.

“Honestly, the wins are great,” Rowe said, “but for me, (and assistant coaches) Parker (Berberet) and Braden Wells, it’s more about developing these kids so that they’re better off next season when they go back to their colleges. Putting all these guys in opportunities to be in big moments and perform for the team, that’s what it’s all about.

“If you can share those big moments and get these guys opportunities where they’re able to succeed, it’s such a big step for the development of college players.”

Not only have the Rogues won in a variety of different ways so far this season, but they’re getting contributions from all over the lineup.

As is the case with plenty of summer collegiate baseball teams, the starting lineup is going to be different from day to day. All but three of Medford’s position players have appeared in at least 10 games this season.

And no matter who has been in the lineup, there has been consistent production up and down the lineup no matter who is starting on that given day.

Jake Gentry, a first baseman/outfielder out of Cal State Fullerton, leads the Rogues in both batting average (.443) and RBIs (28) while trailing just Ruben Cedillo and Jesse Brown in home runs. Cedillo has hit a team-leading four home runs this season to go along with 26 RBIs and a .338 average, while Brown — who hit a walk-off home run against the Bees this past Thursday night — is hitting .294 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 13 games.

For the season, the Rogues are hitting .323 as a team and averaging just over nine runs a game.

“That’s probably what’s making me the happiest is that the lineup is changing every single night and it’s a different person finding a way to help the team every single night,” Rowe said. “That’s just awesome, and it makes me very happy with the recruiting process. I’ve only recruited teams for a couple of years now, but obviously when you recruit a team you have a lot of confidence in the guys you bring in. It’s awesome that they’re not turning me into a liar right now.”

The same contributions-from-everywhere theme can be said about the Rogues’ pitching staff, one that saw a 25 ⅓-inning shutout streak snapped in the final inning of Saturday night’s doubleheader.

It’s been by design, too.

Rowe and Berberet have kept the Rogues’ starting staff on a strict pitch count through the first month of the season. Starters have been limited to between 50 to 70 pitches, which means they rarely go into the sixth inning. As the season goes on, that might be stretched a little further to between 60 and 80 pitches, but even then it’s about keeping arms fresh and not taxing any of the team’s starting pitchers.

That means the Rogues bullpen has been asked to throw four or five innings each night.

And, for much of the season, they’ve delivered just like the offense has.

“Super impressed,” Rowe said with his bullpen’s performance so far this season. “Parker Berberet is an incredible baseball coach and to have somebody like that who played both pitcher and catcher in a professional system for so long is such a unique perspective for somebody to have. He’s been on both sides of it — he knows what it looks like when a pitcher is struggling, he knows what it’s like to struggle as a pitcher. You can see the players really respond to that.

“He’s got such a regimented schedule for these guys, and he’s working with them on their arm care routines, he’s talking to the coaches about not overloading their schedule. I’ve got to give credit to Parker because, in my opinion, he’s the best summer baseball coach that I’ve ever been around.”

While Rowe says he’s been impressed with virtually everybody on the team, the group that may have stood out the most to him is the one of players that have produced for the Rogues despite not having not even gone to college yet.

Starting pitcher Van Larson, a lefty who’s heading to Oregon State, has a minuscule 0.47 ERA through his first four starts, allowing just one earned run in 19 innings. Two of the Rogues’ newest players, outfielders Austin Smith (UC San Diego) and Josh Williams (UC Santa Barbara), have both made immediate impacts, with the latter hitting a home run in the second game of last Saturday’s doubleheader.

“All these high school kids coming up have been calm under pressure and acting like they’ve been there before has been really cool to see as a coach,” Rowe said.

When putting the team together, Rowe set out to build a roster that was both talented but was also high on character. That’s a big reason why he brought so many players back from last season, his first year in charge.

Over a third of the Rogues’ roster consists of players from last year’s team that went 22-8 in the pandemic-shortened season.

Rowe wanted there to be a certain culture and vibe on the team right from the get-go, and as players have slowly worked their way to Medford as their respective school seasons have come to an end, having so many returners around has made it easier on the newcomers.

“We recruit very heavily for character, so between Parker, Braden and myself, the relationship with college coaches is really good,” Rowe said. “We’ve worked really hard to just develop those relationships, so college coaches trust us — which really helps a lot. These coaches know we want guys who aren’t going to be a problem, who work really hard — and that’s part of the reason we brought back so many guys from last year, too, because we wanted to have a core of guys to build on what we had last year.”

It has all added up to a team that is in the midst of the best start a Rogues team has ever had.

And with the first full week of July here and the second half of the season arriving, Rowe is only continuing to look forward to what his team can do as well as what opponent is in town right now as well as what’s still to come on the schedule.

“The Lincoln Potters have a couple of big-time bats in their lineup,” Rowe said. “I’m really excited to go to Bend and play the Elks because they have three ex-Oregon State coaches as well, so we will have six Beaver coaches all on the field at the same time. Then we go to Corvallis and get to play at Goss Stadium against the Corvallis Knights on a Friday night and a Saturday night.

“So I’d say between the Potters, the Elks and the Knights, we’re going to kind of treat that as our playoffs.”

Reach Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Medford Rogues infielder/outfielder Jake Gentry, shown batting Thursday, had a team-best .443 batting average entering Tuesday night’s series opener against the Lincoln Potters. Photo by Denise Baratta