State's baseball playoffs full of aces

Forget all those eye-popping batting averages and RBI numbers, they're just window dressing to what's truly necessary to be a legitimate title contender in baseball.

The basic truth that has held up over time is that baseball is all about pitching. You give yourself almost all the ammunition you need to make a championship run with at least one elite pitcher on your staff, and that's exactly why this year's state playoffs are so intriguing.

Perhaps in an odd alignment of the stars, this year's senior class of pitchers in Oregon boasts more top-level talent and depth than has been seen in quite some time.

"It seems like almost every team has a person or two that can go out and dominate hitters," says North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe. "It's a very unique senior class throughout the state with the number of dominant pitchers. I don't know if there's been one like it, at least not as deep."

Wolfe has enjoyed two very special ones first-hand in Black Tornado seniors Matt Maurer and Bradey Shipley, and will get an up-close look at another today when No. 3 North travels to Lake Oswego for a second-round game against the No. 2 Lakers and ace right-hander Tom Zarosinski.

Zarosinski (6-1, 1.20 ERA) is part of an Oregon State recruiting class that has some comparing this group to the 2003 high school season, which brought first-team all-state pitchers Jonah Nickerson (Oregon City), Dallas Buck (Newberg) and Kevin Gunderson (Central Catholic) to the Beavers and helped form the foundation for their NCAA championship runs.

Joining Zarosinski at OSU next season will be Clackamas left-hander Ben Wetzler, Ashland right-hander Ian Kendall and McNary lefty Zach Moeller.

The Division I list continues with Maurer (Pepperdine), Tualatin right-hander Mark Lambson (Arizona State) and left-hander Brandon Snyder (Washington State) and LaGrande right-hander Zach Nice (Portland).

Shipley and Roseburg ace Brandon Jackson have proven to be just effective and have signed to play at Western Nevada College, while Marist has a pair of aces in its own right in right-handers Brady Kirkpatrick, who's still mulling his options, and Zach Brandon (Linfield).

It would come as no surprise to see a few of the Oregon aces drafted by major league clubs next month. Until then, it makes for some intense matchups during this year's state playoffs.

"I remember when we won it in '07, we saw some quality pitchers but we never ran up against that dominant guy that had the big name until we got to the state championship and faced (Ben Pressler) from Westview," says Wolfe. "We're kinda facing the same thing (today) in the second round and it's like a state championship game already because that's the quality of pitching you're going to see."

The same goes for top-ranked Roseburg, which will pit Jackson or standout sophomore Josh Graham against Wetzler in another must-see matchup. And should the state rankings hold up, the winner of the North Medford-Lake Oswego game won't get much of a break in Friday's quarterfinals against No. 4 Tualatin's aforementioned duo.

In reality, none of these matchups should be happening until much further down the road in the playoffs, but that's the system in use now, where there's no weight placed on your standing statewide. All that will change next year when the Oregon School Activities Association implements a power rating system.

"Nothing against South Medford," says Wolfe of the SWC's No. 3 seed, "but they're going to see a team (today in Wilson) that's 13-14 and we're going against a 24-2 team in the second round. It's just the luck of the draw and just something we all have to deal with."

While there's no guarantee that power ratings will help teams avoid facing upper-echelon pitchers in early rounds, the odds seem to favor those meetings will occur later in the playoff picture. And that would be just fine for Wolfe, who would like to see the best teams face a path to the title game that's as equal as possible.

"I think you should be rewarded for what you achieve during the regular season," he says. "I think what it's going to do is guarantee the best teams are in the later rounds and they're going to be able to emerge."

"When you're playing a single-game elimination, I think it does matter because you're not afforded the opportunity to make a mistake," Wolfe adds. "You have to play your best baseball all the time. Pitching's the name of the game in baseball and if you're matching up with lesser quality pitchers in the second round instead of someone on the No. 2 or 3 team, obviously your chances are greater just based on the quality of pitching you expect to see."

Regardless, Wolfe is as excited as anyone to see Zarosinski try to tame the Black Tornado and Maurer attempt to do likewise against the Lakers in a game that begins at 5 today. After all, good baseball is good baseball, no matter when it happens.


CHALLENGING THE OSAA could be more costly these days thanks to an amendment adopted by the independent member organization that would require schools or school districts to reimburse the OSAA for legal fees if they file suit against the association and lose.

The OSAA recently dealt with a lengthy legal battle when school districts in Eugene, Medford and Salem protested the classification and districting plan in 2006. The OSAA won the suit, but allegedly spent $150,000 on legal fees.

Doug Jantzi, director of secondary education and athletics for the Medford School District, says this district was able to hold its total cost to under $10,000 but the Eugene School District 4J spent "close to six figures" during the legal battle.

"I'd kinda like to know the legality of them being able to make that claim," Jantzi says of the OSAA's amended Rule 3.2, "but they must have checked their legal standing to make that claim because what you're potentially doing is bullying or putting a fear factor into essentially challenging them.

"I'm sure it was inserted as a way of saying, 'Before you sue us, you better think twice.' It's also a way for them to have to avoid counter suing for attorney's fees."

That said, Jantzi does see some merits in the action as it relates to protecting the interests of the entire member organization. The money used on legal fees reduces the payout to member schools each year.

"If it's legal for them to do that, it's essentially a way for them to protect other schools," he says. "Since we all support them, in a way they're trying to protect other schools when they're involved in litigation, too. I don't challenge that ruling, I just find it interesting."

When the Portland Adventist Academy successfully sued the OSAA to have its religious beliefs accommodated in state tournament schedules, the OSAA was required to pay the academy's legal fees after the Supreme Court's ruling in 2008.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail

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