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Tornado watch

The names on the rosters change, but the victories just keep flowing.

The North Medford softball program has made a habit of winning, and that trend doesn't appear to be fading anytime soon.

Southwest Conference coaches voted the Black Tornado (with seven returning starters) as the favorite to capture the league title. South Medford, guided by one of the state’s top pitchers, was second and Roseburg third, followed by Grants Pass, Thurston, Sheldon, Willamette and South Eugene.

The top four teams in the SWC automatically qualify for the Class 6A 32-team state bracket. North, South, Roseburg and Grants Pass went 48-0 against the Eugene schools in the conference last year.

Action in the SWC begins Tuesday.

North has secured the last six league crowns, and one of the name's consistently connected to the triumphs is 11th-year head coach Mike Mayben. The former Black Tornado four-year baseball starter and Southern Oregon RiverDogs amateur baseball coach is 222-60 as North's softball leader.

Since 2009, Mayben's clubs have gone 185-23 with three state titles and one state runner-up showing.

"We have been pretty fortunate to have so many kids playing in our program," said Mayben, who became North's fifth head coach in six seasons in 2006 after the Larry Binney glory years. "Depth-wise, when we scrimmage the JV kids there isn't a lot of drop-off. We feel pretty confident 1 through 9, or really 1 through 12 or 1 through 13."

North senior right-hander Sarah Thomas will lead the pack in the circle after posting a 17-3 record last spring.

"She is just a really intelligent, hard-working kid," coach Mayben said. "She has a great rapport with our pitching coach and is one of the best we've had as far as analyzing our opponent, going out and executing."

Meanwhile, junior Olivia Lethlean will take over in center field and as leadoff hitter for the graduated Grace Jovanovic — both were SWC first-teamers last spring.

Lethlean hit a team-best .471 last season, with junior returner Taelor Mayben second (.470) and senior Tra Kucera third (.435). Kucera also made the league's first team.

"Grace was a four-year starter and a tremendous hitter," coach Mayben said. "Olivia will do a great job filling those shoes."

Designated player Teanna Gonsalves, a senior and 2015 first-team all-SWC pick, also packs punch at the plate.

"Getting your top hitters back is just tremendous," coach Mayben said.

Taking over at first base for graduated first-teamer Janelle Rodgers is senior Gabby Rosales.

North lost to McNary in the second round of the state playoffs last spring, finishing the year 23-5 overall after a 19-2 run in the SWC.

Another standout is sophomore starting returner Alex Barry, who hit .351 last year as a second baseman. She and Lethlean both shined when opportunities arose due to injuries.

Rylan Austin (sophomore shortstop) also started last year.

Filling out the outfield for North will be senior Cassie Campbell (right field) and junior Mahal Miles (left field).

The league matchups Tuesday are: North Medford at South Eugene (4:30 p.m.), South Medford at Willamette (4:30 p.m.) and Roseburg at Thurston (4:30 p.m.).

South Medford

The Panthers bring back junior pitching star Pat Moore after going 22-6 in 2015. She is one of three returning starters, along with junior catcher Bailee Tatum and senior outfielder Jeryka Johnson.

Moore, who will also lead off in the batting order, earned second-team all-state acclaim after posting a 21-5 record and 0.94 ERA during the regular season in 2015. She batted .489 with 26 runs and 14 RBIs.

"She's arguably the best pitcher in the state," coach Mayben said of Moore.

Moore has been on a strikeout tear so far this spring, including a perfect five-inning win with 13 Ks against Redmond on Saturday.

Senior shortstop Katie Meyer has come on strong for South, which lost to Reynolds in the first round of the state playoffs last season. Tatum has also proved tough at the plate.

Junior Jewel Burgoyne-Russell will do a little bit of everything for the Panthers, who will be in search of their first victory over crosstown rival North since April 15, 2008 (a 4-3 win in eight innings).

Senior Bekah Britton will play first base and serve as the squad's No. 2 pitcher.

"We've just been talking about playing solid defense, hitting the ball well and scoring runs," South Medford head coach Miranda Gillaspie-Smith said.

Moore, a lefty, has grown into an even better pitcher, Gillaspie-Smith said. She threw for the Northwest Bullets during the offseason.

"She worked hard all winter, fine tuning," Gillaspie-Smith said. "She played summer ball and is just a full-time player. ... She's going to keep us in ballgames. She's constantly trying to get faster and just stronger. She approaches the game the right way."

Roseburg

Head coach Tony Campos returns for a 14th season with the Indians, who went 15-11 last spring. Roseburg brings back all-league players Ashley Martin (pitcher), shortstop Baylee Wyscaver and outfielder/second baseman Bailey Daniels. Outfielder Katie Ladd also returns with starting experience. Still, Campos says the Indians may use three or four freshmen in the starting lineup.

Grants Pass

The Cavers are young with five freshmen around the diamond. Alyssa Etheridge takes on the large role of replacing two-time conference pitcher of the year Amy Robinson. Grants Pass made a run to the 6A state semifinals last season but graduated six starters. That squad went 27-4 overall.

Standout junior catcher Brielle Doman is making a healthy return after tearing an ACL midway through last season, and senior outfielder Dalenna Bellum is expected to bring additional leadership.

Thurston

The Colts return SWC first-team selection Megan Martin (a senior outfielder).

Thurston also brings back league honorable mentions Allie Dolbin, who has moved from second base to shortstop, and junior pitcher Jackie Muggy, who has started her entire career.

Sheldon

The Irish will start four freshmen, but have proven talent in second-team SWC selection Avery Hutsell (a junior center fielder who played shortstop last year) and senior right fielder Taylor Sorensen (also a second-team league pick). Senior first baseman Haley Egbert has been off to a hot hitting start and Samantha Mundorff is a junior pitcher.

Willamette

The Wolverines bring back SWC honorable mention Alyssa Gayle, who is a senior. She will help with the pitching duties, along with Kira Deffenbacher and freshman Mariah Zepeda.

South Eugene

The Axemen return SWC honorable mention Sydney Bowers, a junior shortstop, and they feel confident in the abilities of freshmen Grace Clark (pitcher) and Lisa Kochevar (catcher).

South Medford junior Pat Moore is one of the top pitchers in the Oregon, having made second-team all-state last season. MT FILE PHOTO
Black Tornado senior Tra Kucera was third on the team in hitting last season with an average of .435. MT FILE PHOTO