RiverDogs face tough test in Flyers

In one respect, the summer baseball season has gone just about the way Southern Oregon RiverDogs manager Bill James anticipated.

The RiverDogs entered the season with more quality pitching and depth at that position than ever before, and figured to hang their hats on those prospects.

And with a team ERA of 3.19, that group led by Josh Strom, Josh Suarez and Chad Hegdahl has more than held its own.

But what James and crew didn't envision was how listless the bats would be among their counterparts, and how damaging that can be to the bottom line.

Southern Oregon (13-11) enters a three-game series with the league-leading Vancouver Flyers tonight batting just .266 as a team. The RiverDogs are averaging only four runs and seven hits per game.

"Some of the pitchers have been just fantastic," says James, singling out the aforementioned trio and relievers Evan Seegmiller and Marcus James. "In scoring positions we just have not come through at all. The bad thing is we're talking about standing strike threes, where we're not moving the ball with one out or anything."

One player who has more than carried his share of the load thus far has been utility fielder Tyson Nelson, who enters tonight's twin bill with a 13-game hitting streak.

The former Eagle Point High standout leads the team in nearly every offensive category, batting .500 (33-for-66) with 14 runs, 12 stolen bases, six doubles and one triple. Only first baseman Allen Smith has more RBIs than Nelson, 13 to 11, respectively.

"He's the best ballplayer on the team overall," says James. "The best defensive player, the best offensive player, a good team leader. I couldn't ask for more."

"Probably 50 percent of the games so far he's won it for us this year with his bat and his defense and ability to take an extra base when we need it," adds the first-year manager. "He's done it all for us this year."

Nelson has played third base, shortstop, catcher and even pitched an inning during a stretch of six games in three days.

And, maybe most important, he's done it all in the right manner.

"He brings it everyday," James says of Nelson. "He's a kid who comes on the ballfield and is there to play baseball. He's not there to goof around or anything; he puts 110-plus percent out there for you."

This summer's performance is simply a carryover from the spring, when Nelson was named a first-team all-conference tournament selection as an infielder for Mt. Hood Community College. He hit .387 and had a .475 on-base percentage. Nelson recently signed to play baseball at Western Oregon next season.

Complementing Nelson thus far has been former South Medford High standouts Jared Adamson and Dan Chancler, who are the lone regulars besides Nelson hitting above .300 in the RiverDog lineup. Adamson is hitting .350 with 11 RBIs, while Chancler is at .321 with 13 runs in the leadoff spot.

"Jared Adamson's come through a lot for us, too," says James. "He went on a little slump there for a bit, but he's back and he's starting to pound the ball again. He's probably just as hot as Tyson right now."

But James says more RiverDogs will need to step up this weekend in order to have success against a visiting Vancouver team that headed into last week with a 17-6 record in the Northwest Collegiate Baseball League. The RiverDogs, who play a weekend-only schedule unlike others, are 6-6 in the NWCL.

"All I know about them is they've got some strong pitching and they score a lot of runs," James says of the Flyers. "I think they were averaging about eight runs a game going into last weekend."

Strom (3-0, 0.29 ERA), Suarez (1-4, 1.62) and Hegdahl (1-0, 1.50) will be tasked with slowing that down as the starters today and Sunday at Harry & David Field, but James adds they won't be able to do it alone.

"The pitching, I think, will be there," he says, "but the bats have got to come through for us."

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

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