Setting the table
PHOENIX — There are no "big" stars on the current Phoenix baseball team, says coach Joe Hagler.
Minus a big slugger or two so typical of past Pirate teams, this season's crew has found a winning formula by doing the little things well.
Pitching, defense, timely hitting — Phoenix has been solid in all three categories en route to an 8-2 record.
And no player epitomizes what has made the fourth-ranked Pirates what they are today more than junior Kory Locken.
As a starting center fielder and the No. 2 hitter in the lineup, Locken is battling teammate Dustin Smith for the lead in batting with a .500 average (18-for-36). Locken has also scored 13 runs to go with three doubles, 10 stolen bases, a home run and a .722 slugging percentage.
"It's pretty nice having him at No. 2 because he's a good bunter and can hit for power," says Hagler of the speedy Locken. "Sometimes his sacrifice bunt can turn into a hit."
"It's his explosiveness that impresses me," Hagler adds. "He has a 39-inch vertical jump and is a very explosive young man. When a ball is hit in the outfield, he explodes towards it. He does the same thing at the plate — he explodes towards the ball."
Phoenix hit a slight lull recently after an 8-0 start with back-to-back losses to Ashland and Pleasant Hill.
The 10-0 loss to the Class 5A Grizzlies was a head-scratcher to Locken.
"We thought we would walk over them," says Locken. "Everyone was too nonchalant. When we lost, it was kind of an eye-opener."
Locken isn't concerned with the two recent hiccups, however.
"I think our team right now is playing great," says Locken. "We all have about the same skills.
"But the main thing for us is that we're all family. Everyone has been playing with each other for a long time."
And with much success.
Locken, now in his second year on varsity, was part of the 13-15-year-old Phoenix-Talent Babe Ruth squad that won the state and regional tournaments in 2005 and advanced to the World Series in Louisiana. That team was the first Rogue Valley squad to advance to the 13-15-year-old event since 1984.
"I know these guys well," says Locken of his teammates. "I've been playing with most of them for the last six or seven years."
Locken, a first-team all-Skyline Conference defensive back for the Phoenix football team, is one of seven juniors in the starting lineup. The Pirates also start a sophomore in pitching ace Jordan Lewis and a senior in Smith.
Defensively, Locken thrives in his roll as the anchor of the outfield.
"I like center field," Locken says, "because the other two outfielders look to you a lot to find the ball. Center field is like the captain out there."
Hagler remembers one instance in the Ashland game where Locken showcased his speed in the outfield.
"(Justin) Meza hit a ball to the wall in center field and (Locken) ran it down," says Hagler. "I mean, when the ball left the bat, it looked like it was going to the fence and would clear the bases. But Kory ran it down."
The Pirates close out nonconference play on Saturday with a game at North Medford, the state's top-ranked Class 6A team.
If the first 10 games are any indication, Phoenix should be a handful for the unbeaten Black Tornado. Especially with Locken roaming the outfield.
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.