CENTRAL POINT—A 70 degree day coincided perfectly with the unofficial start of the high school baseball season.
On Monday at Anhorn Field, Crater, South Medford, North Medford and Grants Pass got together for a baseball jamboree.
The Comets, the only class five team of the bunch, had the most successful 2017 season. They made it to the state championship game before falling to Churchill.
Crater is optimistic it can get back to that point and win it all in 2018. It’ll be relying heavily on the left arm of senior Larson Kindreich.
"Our number one pitcher is back this year,” head coach Jay Campbell said. “He was a first-team all-state pitcher, led the state in wins and strikeouts in all classifications, so Larson is obviously a big piece of that. Any time he's on the mound, we could beat anybody."
South Medford enters the season as the favorite in the Southwest Conference. And like so many other of its athletic programs, the baseball team boasts many seniors—10 total.
The group is led by Jacob Melton, who was recently voted the top senior in the entire state by Maxpreps.
"I can't say I disagree with that,” head coach Ray Smith said. “I think that young man is one of the better baseball players I've had the opportunity to coach in a long time. Here's a kid that I think has got not only a great present but future too. I really believe he is one of the top two or three players in the state without a doubt."
Crosstown rival North Medford knows it’ll have its hands full with the Panthers this year.
While the Black Tornado don’t enter the season with a flashy roster, it’s one that’s growing up quickly. After South Medford on top, the rest of the conference is wide open for the taking.
"Last year was pretty much all new guys for us as far as playing varsity baseball so this is pretty much the second year of the nucleus that I have now,” head coach Brett Wolfe said. “They're lunch pail guys. They're not going to stand out too much as far as being top, exceptional players, but they're very good and they compete really hard and they play the game the right way."
Grants Pass meanwhile graduated nine seniors after a 2017 season that saw it finish in fifth place in the conference. The Cavemen come into the new season with a new-look roster and a first-year head coach.
Former North Valley head coach Kevin Schafer takes the reigns with legitimate credentials—he played college baseball at College of Southern Idaho and has coached at the collegiate level as well.
"I was the pitching coach at Oregon Tech for seven years with coach Miles (before North Valley), so (this) was an opportunity to be able to coach at the highest level, at the 6A level,” Schafer said.