Warriors lead pack of contenders chasing Churchill.
While Churchill is the heavy favorite to win the Midwestern League baseball title, there is no clear order behind the Lancers.
Lebanon, Thurston and Sheldon each received at least one second-place vote in The Register-Guard's preseason coaches poll, while defending co-champion North Eugene also figures to be near the top of the standings.
Lebanon finished fifth in its Midwestern debut last season and returns a handful of starters, including second-team all-league pitcher Kyle Atchley. Shortstop Drew George was also a second-team all-league selection.
There will be plenty of new faces at Thurston this year, including coach Mike Michel. The longtime assistant coach replaces Charlie Potucek, who resigned after two years as coach to spend more time with his family.
"I've been offered the job a few times, but I didn't really feel like it was the time to do it," Michel said. "I have three boys who are growing up and going off to college, so now I have more time."
The Colts will also have a new battery this year, as starting pitchers Danny Sales and Cole Smith graduated along with catcher Johnny Bowden, who now plays at Nebraska. Branden Walton and Brian Barley are the likely replacements on the mound, while Avery Roeman steps in at catcher.
"We lost some good pitchers who kept us in games, so now we have to develop some guys who don't have a lot of hill time," Michel said. "Walton has the most time and Barley has some, but not a lot because we had Smith and Sales there."
Thurston has been battling injuries. Second baseman Nick Smith, an honorable mention all-league selection, has been banged up, and speedy center fielder Matt Urness is expected to miss four to six weeks with an elbow injury.
Sophomore Jordan Gross has stepped in to the leadoff role in place of Urness and is batting over .300. Barley, Roeman and Smith provide punch in the middle of the order.
Sheldon and North Eugene shared the league title last year, but both were hit hard by graduation.
The Highlanders return three starters, including senior third baseman Trevor Mael, a second-team all-league selection, and sophomore shortstop Shawn Peterson, an honorable mention pick.
"It is a real fun bunch to be around. If you look at our lineup, we have four sophomores, a freshman, some juniors, and the only senior that has a whole season of varsity experience is Trevor Mael," North Eugene coach Corey Nicholsen said. "I see this group as one that hopefully matures in the first couple of weeks and has a good league season."
The Highlanders have won or shared the last three league titles, while Sheldon has been a co-champion in two of the past three seasons. Kenny Niles, a Grant Union graduate who was an assistant last year at Sisters, is the new coach of the Irish.
He inherits a team that returns four starters, including first-team all-league selections Bryan Hansen and Jon Higgins in the infield. Those two have combined to bat over .600 with four home runs in Sheldon's first four games.
"We've got a weird mix," Niles said. "We've got a couple of first-team all-league kids back who can definitely play at the next level, and then we've got some kids who haven't played baseball since junior high."
The Irish are off to a 4-1 start and have struck out only six times in those five games.
Marshfield also figures to be a factor in the league race with Matt Duryea back for another year. The left-handed pitcher and center fielder has signed to play at Oregon State next year.
Duryea batted .449 with seven home runs last year and had a 5-2 record with a 2.31 ERA in limited time on the mound. Duryea struck out 96 batters in 49 innings pitched as a junior.
He'll throw to Bobby McClintock, an honorable mention all-league catcher.
Midwestern League softball teams will be featured in next Tuesday's Prep Week
Lebanon coach Jeff Stolsig (left) makes a point to an umpire as Warriors pitcher Kyle Atchley looks on. The Warriors are picked to finish second in the Midwestern League this season.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports; Thurston, Sheldon and North Eugene are also expected to vie for second|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Mar 30, 2004|
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