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Tornado aims for SWC sweep

Armed with two of the top baseball pitchers in the state and a host of senior leadership, North Medford appears destined for a run toward its fourth straight Southwest Conference championship.

At least that's the way the SWC coaches see it.

In the preseason coaches' poll, North Medford was a slight favorite to edge out Roseburg — last year's Class 6A state runner-up — for the conference title. The Black Tornado compiled 24 points in the voting compared to 22 for the Indians after garnering twice as many first-place votes.

Sheldon (15), Grants Pass (13), South Medford (11) and South Eugene (5) rounded out the voting in the last run for the SWC, which is being disbanded thanks to another reclassification shake-up by the Oregon School Activities Association.

Returning pitchers Matt Maurer and Bradey Shipley headline a North Medford team eager to live up to expectations, no matter how lofty those may be for the Black Tornado.

"We're a team that's always been pretty good at baseball and we've been looking forward to this (season) all year," said Maurer, who was a second-team all-state pitcher last year, "so people looking at us (as favorites) makes us even more happy."

Maurer and Shipley are two of the three first-team all-SWC pitchers returning this season, with Roseburg senior Brandon Jackson the other. Shipley posted a 5-1 record in conference play last year, sporting a 3.18 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 33 innings. Maurer was 3-1 with a 2.47 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 34 innings.

"Both of those kids are very smart pitching-wise," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe said. "Matt and Bradey are two of the state's really top pitchers that we're fortunate to put on the hill. Bradey's just blossomed, and with Matt being left and Bradey being right, you couldn't ask for a better 1-2 combination. It's a whole different look."

Helping get the best out of each pitcher continues to be fellow senior Colin Sowers, who is in his third season as the starting catcher and fourth season on the varsity squad. Sowers was a first-team all-conference selection a year ago, and has proven as valuable in handling the pitching staff — especially Maurer and Shipley — as he is with the bat in his hand.

"Colin is so intelligent behind the plate," said Wolfe. "He's got four years with us and he really commands their attention. We don't call a pitch. We talk about it but he can read hitters very well, so with (Maurer and Shipley's) ability to pitch, he just takes them home. All they have to do is worry about pitch and location and play defense and Colin kinda dials up what he needs."

Sowers hit .375 with a team-high 16 RBIs in league play last year, and has already shown tremendous promise in the leadoff spot after getting a pair of hits in North Medford's first five games this season. He and Maurer are the only players left from the 2007 team that won the Class 6A state championship.

First baseman Cody James and center fielder Cory Haggans return as starters, although Haggans moves over from right field. James was a first-team all-SWC pick last year after hitting .394 in league play with 19 runs, 11 RBIs and 20 walks compared to only two strikeouts. The duo help comprise a veteran cast that includes 11 seniors and three juniors.

"I feel like it's a lot more comfortable this year because these are the kids we grew up around," said Sowers. "I feel like we're just a bunch of average guys. We're not the best athletes out there, but we put our time in and we're just out here having fun. All of us are out here because it's what we love to do, it's not because, 'Hey, North Medford's the best.' We've been together since we were little kids and we're just having fun."

Making things more fun is knowing that your childhood friends are pretty darn good baseball players, too. Seniors Shaun Whitehead (left field/pitcher) and Michael Paxton (third base) help provide good offensive and defensive balance for the Black Tornado, which also received a boost with the transfer of senior right fielder Seth Brown from Klamath Union.

Seniors Michael Bradshaw, Travis Cash and Chris Anderson help supply depth on a pitching staff that has most of its varsity experience wrapped up in the innings logged by Maurer and Shipley.

"We're fairly deep pitching-wise and I wouldn't be afraid to go to any of those guys," said Wolfe.

Junior Jesse Hornbrook has already made an impact with his bat in the lineup, while Jeremy Scottow's versatility on defense up the middle and Cory Pine's ability to back up Sowers stand to be invaluable as North Medford aims for a memorable campaign.

All know, however, that it won't be easy.

"We know there's teams like Roseburg and Grants Pass and even South (Medford) this year that have a shot to make a run at things, too," said Sowers. "We just want to make sure we do what we do and give it our best at all times and not slack because there aren't any easy games in our conference."

The return of Jackson and fellow all-state players like right fielder Mitch Huff and shortstop John Farrington makes Roseburg more than just a challenger for the SWC crown. The Indians bring back seven starters from last year's state runner-up squad, including seniors Vince Ampi, Derek Priestley, Cameron Newell and Jay Tovey, and add some talented newcomers.

Roseburg's main challenge will be in developing a steady pitching rotation behind Jackson, but the arms appear to be there.

"The North Medford-Roseburg battle will be pretty awesome," said South Eugene head coach Chris Vermeer. "It's too bad we'll have to play on those days because that's something I'd like to see. I think both are top 3 teams in the state."

After three years as the freshman coach, Scott Wright takes over as the varsity head coach at Sheldon and returns standout pitcher Zach Kayser and shortstop Garrett Horning.

Oregon State-bound shortstop/pitcher Brandon Drury headlines a Grants Pass team eager to show last year's five-win performance was an aberration. Fellow senior Brock Dean is another legitimate dual threat as a pitcher and center fielder, along with Tyler Spencer (third base/pitcher), while junior Casey Miller has provided a steady bat for the dangerous Cavemen.

At South Medford, Ray Smith takes over an up-and-coming squad that "will go as our pitching goes," according to the 1989 North Medford graduate.

"No kid has thrown more than 10 varsity innings, so that's going to be a challenge for us," said Smith, who guided the JV team a year ago.

Junior Sean Pearson is expected to shoulder much of that burden, but arm issues have slowed his progress thus far.

Junior Josh Havird is the lone returning all-conference selection after being named to the second team as an outfielder last year. Havird moves to third base to complement his newfound role on the mound.

Center fielder Brandon Dollarhide has also shown an ability to hold teams down when called upon as a pitcher, and is an offensive and defensive catalyst for the Panthers.

Sophomore left-hander Nate Namanny, junior Andrew Phillips and senior Kyle Seutter give the Panthers options on the mound, along with senior transfer Dylan Albertson and junior brother Cody Albertson, both from Hidden Valley.

The elder Albertson has helped shore up the shortstop position, as well as given a potent bat in the meat of the lineup. Senior left fielder Casey Kline and senior catcher Allen Fitzsimmons have also been key to the Panthers' offensive success thus far.

"Hopefully we can turn a few heads," said Smith. "We're the underdogs and always have been. We accept that role to a point, but we certainly want to change that thing around."


COACH: Brett Wolfe (16th year)

LAST YEAR: 24-5, 12-3 SWC



Player Pos Yr.

Matt Maurer LHP/1B Sr.

Bradey Shipley RHP/SS Sr.

Colin Sowers C Sr.

Cody James 1B/2B Sr.

Cory Haggans CF Sr.


Michael Paxton 3B Sr.

Shaun Whitehead LF/RHP Sr.

Seth Brown RF Sr.

Jesse Hornbrook DH/3B Jr.

Jeremy Scottow 2B/SS Jr.

Michael Bradshaw RHP Sr.

Travis Cash RHP Sr.

Chris Anderson LHP Sr.

Cory Pine C Jr.


COACH: Troy Thompson (eighth year)

LAST YEAR: 21-6, 12-3 SWC



Player Pos Yr.

Brandon Jackson RHP/1B Sr.

John Farrington SS Sr.

Mitch Huff RF Sr.

Derek Priestley 3B Sr.

Vince Ampi C/RHP Sr.

Cameron Newell CF Sr.

Jay Tovey 2B/RHP Sr.


Micah Audiss LF Jr.

Josh Graham C/RHP So.

Mike Morin RHP/IF So.

Darrin Nelson IF So.

Jared Priestley OF/RHP So.

Lucas Walker OF Sr.


COACH: Scott Wright (first year)

LAST YEAR: 17-13, 8-7 SWC



Player Pos Yr.

Zach Kayser RHP/1B Sr.

Garrett Horning SS/RHP Sr.

Ryan Land CF/LHP So.

Jared Corey C Sr.


Taylor Ilg RHP/RF Sr.

Cason Cunningham LHP/1B Jr.

Nick Steele RHP Sr.

Brandon Vitus 3B/2B/SS Sr.

Cameron Herr 3B So.

Cooper Stiles 2B/RHP Fr.

Dariano Mancuso 1B/DH/RHP Jr.

Jordan Johnson OF Sr.


COACH: Brian Diatte (second year)

LAST YEAR: 5-22, 4-11 SWC



Player Pos Yr.

Brandon Drury SS/RHP Sr.

Brock Dean CF/LHP Sr.

Jordy Romick RF Sr.

Tyler Spencer 3B/RHP Sr.

Jordan Brown C Sr.


Casey Miller 1B Jr.

Beau Beaumont 1B Sr.

Ryan Voges LF/1B Sr.

Matt McGill RHP/DH Sr.

Tyler Bennett SS/3B/CF So.

Austin Beard RHP So.

Josh Robinson LHP So.


COACH: Ray Smith (first year)

LAST YEAR: 13-15, 6-9 SWC



Player Pos Yr.

Brandon Dollarhide CF/RHP Sr.

Josh Havird 3B/RHP Jr.

Casey Kline LF Sr.


Allen Fitzsimmons C Sr.

Ryan Wellock Util Jr.

Sean Pearson RHP Jr.

Dylan Albertson SS/RHP Sr.

Kyle Seutter 1B/RHP Sr.

Nate Namanny 1B/LHP So.

Bryson Lake 2B Jr.

Andrew Phillips RF/RHP Jr.

Ryan Kuykendall RF Sr.

Cody Albertson RHP/1B Jr.


COACH: Chris Vermeer (fourth year)

LAST YEAR: 9-16, 3-12 SWC



Player Pos Yr.

Gus Craig RF/LHP Jr.

Jory Christiansen CF Sr.

Spencer Christiansen SS Sr.

Zach Mallory 1B Sr.

Carlos Larson C/RHP Jr.

Trevor Wolf C Sr.


Evan Heeszel IF/P Sr.

Joe Schindler IF/P Fr.

Corbin Stone IF/P Sr.

Spencer Dunlap IF Jr.

Max Morrison OF/1B/P So.

Jarod Inouye OF/P Sr.

Brandon Wylie OF Sr.

Ben Giland IF/C So.

Chris Klonoski IF Sr.

Dylan Moore P Sr.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

North Medford players run out onto the field to celebrate a recent win. The senior-dominant Black Tornado is favored to repeat as SWC champs. - Jamie Lusch