MONROE - The five seniors have known each other practically all their lives.
Most of them have played baseball and basketball together since third grade and football since fifth grade.
Such familiarity can bring success ... or disaster.
"You find some of those groups with eight or 10 boys who have been together a long time and they learn not to like each other," Monroe baseball coach Bill Crowson said.
Such is not the case at Monroe, where Kurt Hartshorn, Nick Payne, Kevin Ballard, Collin McClaughry and Mark Goracke still happily play sports together no matter what the season.
"We all get along pretty well," Ballard said. "We don't really fight or bicker."
That carries over away from the football field, basketball court, wrestling mat and baseball diamond as well.
"Even off the field, we've always done the same stuff," McClaughry said. "We go hunting, fishing, ride four-wheelers, go to the coast. We all kind of have the same hobbies."
Sports sit at the top of that list.
Hartshorn, McClaughry and Payne have been teammates in football, basketball and baseball since they were sophomores. All three earned all-league honors in football this season along with Ballard as they helped the Dragons win the Trico League title for the second time in three years.
McClaughry was a second-team all-league selection in basketball, and Goracke earned honorable mention as the Dragons finished in a tie for fourth place in basketball this season with a 6-6 record.
Ballard spent the winter winning the district wrestling title at 145 pounds and finishing sixth at state.
Hartshorn, Ballard, Payne and McClaughry each earned all-league honors in baseball last spring.
"At a small school, the three-sport kids are the ones your programs depend on," said Crowson, a multitasker himself who is also the school principal and athletic director. "It might take them a little longer to get their swing comfortable or a couple of issues like that because they are playing basketball or wrestling in the winter, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. They compete all the time and they know each other real well. It is a little easier when they have created a bond by playing football and basketball together. Plus, they have been active all the time and they come into baseball in better shape than they would have been."
McClaughry was primarily a center and defensive tackle in football but also played tight end in some formations. At 6-feet-3, he was a force in the post in basketball and is an imposing sight on the mound in addition to his ability to play infield in baseball.
He has earned all-league honors in all three sports.
"When you have success in other sports, it boosts your confidence when you come here to play baseball," McClaughry said. "Baseball is the last sport during the season and you're pumped up and ready to go. You want to compete against all the other schools and you don't want to lose to anybody."
This year baseball is not only the last sport of the season but the last organized sport the five seniors will play together. Monroe is currently leading the league at 11-1.
"You really don't want to stop playing because you know its going to be your last sport," McClaughry said. "You give it your all and you want to go as far as you can."
The seniors hope that includes a state playoff victory, which is something that none of them has accomplished yet in a team sport.
The football team lost its first playoff game in each of the last three seasons, and baseball was knocked out in the first round of the 2004 playoffs. The Dragons finished tied for second in baseball last year at 17-3 but missed out on the state playoffs.
"We have a lot of potential this year and we could do a lot and even do something at state," Ballard said. "That motivates us all to do better and to try harder because it is our last shot at anything."
Ballard transferred from Willamette as a junior, but he has known his teammates since he was 5 years old because his family has longtime roots in Monroe.
He has been a perfect fit in the leadoff spot, while Hartshorn, McClaughry and Payne provide pop in the middle of the order. Goracke has played baseball since his sophomore season and starts in the outfield.
Hartshorn and McClaughry are the top two starting pitchers.
"The fact both Kurt and Collin are throwing well is huge when you play 22 league games," Crowson said.
Monroe has finished second in league during each of the past two seasons and now has a combined record of 44-8 since 2004.
"This is our last shot, we need to leave a mark here at Monroe," Goracke said. "If we could win the league title in baseball, that would be important."
The Dragons are at the top of a crowded pack of teams at the top of the standings. Oakridge, which defeated the Dragons 3-1 on Friday, is 10-1, Waldport is 9-1 and Central Linn is 10-2.
Oakridge features a powerful lineup that has produced home runs from seven different players.
Shortstop Ryan Long has seven home runs and a .500 batting average. Eric Fogg, an honorable mention all-state center fielder last season, has just returned from an ankle injury suffered in basketball.
Freshman Jake Boyd leads the team with a .638 average.
"We knew that he was a great athlete, but I would not have thought he'd be the leading hitter on our team," Oakridge coach Gary Stephenson said.
Senior Nick Harris hits at the top of the order, and junior Jon Young, outfielder Joe Gamez and first baseman Adam Zepeda bring power to the middle of the order. Oakridge's next victory will match its total from last year, when it finished 11-9 in league.
"I think last year has been a motivation for these seniors," Stephenson said. "This is basically the same team as last year, and there was a lot of disappointment where they ended up last year. Our goal is to take care of business this year."
Central Linn is the defending league champion, and the Cobras are once again led by league player of the year Travis Anderson, who will play pitcher, catcher and shortstop this year. He batted .600 last year and is up to .450 this season after hitting a three-run home run and driving in six runs in a 13-3 win over Harrisburg last week.
"The potential is always there for him to rip one," Central Linn coach Wayne Swango said. "He has a great work ethic and is a great competitor."
Third baseman Matt Cooper is batting about .350, and infielder Chad Olesen, catcher Michael Sayers and pitcher Will Lewis also return for the league champs.
"I think the league is stronger this year than it was last year," Swango said. "Overall, I think we'll do better come playoff time."
Monroe's Kurt Hartshorn (left), Nick Payne and Collin McClaughry, all three-sport standouts, have led the Dragons to first place in the Trico League baseball race halfway through the season. The three have played baseball, basketball and football together since the fifth grade. Kevin Ballard also was an all-league football player and a district-champion wrestler. Wayne Eastburn / The Register-Guard Monroe's Mark Goracke, an outfielder, was also a basketball standout.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; Monroe's athletes make Dragons a leading contender for Trico baseball crown|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Apr 26, 2006|
|Previous Article:||Oakridge adds sprinters to stable of runners.|