The Class 3A Special District 4 baseball schedule got underway this week in a new district for the Sutherlin, Douglas and South Umpqua baseball teams.
All three programs dropped from 4A to 3A this season, and all have hopes of early success and playoff runs.
The Sutherlin Bulldogs are considered one of the top teams to challenge Brookings-Harbor for the league title, despite some early season adversity.
The Bulldogs (4-7, 1-0 SD4) had a coaching change on March 20, four games into the season. Bret Prock took over as interim head coach, replacing former coach Tom Nielsen, and he said it took some time for the players to adjust to the sudden change.
“I think it took them maybe a week or so,” said Prock. “They’ve done an excellent job. I’m very proud of them as young men dealing with the transition.”
Prock comes from a pedigree in coaching. His father, Steve Prock, was a longtime football coach and athletic director at Glendale High School, where Bret was an all-state athlete.
It wasn’t easy for the Bulldogs after the coaching change. Sutherlin won its first game under Bret Prock as spring break got started, but went on to lose its next five.
The Bulldogs snapped the losing streak with an “explosion” of offense in a 10-0 win in five innings against Cascade Christian to open league play on Tuesday.
Sutherlin returned five all-league players from last year, including Sky-Em League pitcher of the year Cade Meisner and first-team utility player Payton Hope. The duo highlight a team that Prock feels is deep and talented and has its sights set on a league title.
“On our best day, we’re a very well put together team,” Prock said. “We’re pretty good top to bottom on offense. We’re a little young at seven and eight (in the batting order), but those guys are learning and they’re getting better and better every day.”
Sutherlin continues league play with a doubleheader against Cascade Christian at home on Friday.
The Douglas Trojans are hopeful to challenge for the league title as well, but began league Wednesday with a 12-2 loss at Brookings. The two teams are scheduled to play a twin bill Friday in Winston, weather permitting.
Despite the setback, first-year head coach Ron Quimby is confident that a large number of returners will help the Trojans contend against the rest of the league.
“I expect us to be right in there competing for the top spot. Hopefully we can win the whole thing,” Quimby said.
Douglas (4-4, 0-1 SD4) returned six all-league players from last year’s team that lost a play-in game against the Phoenix Pirates. Cole Waldron, Noah Burke and Kadin Baker were all first-team selections, but Baker is being asked to play a new position after an injury chipped away at Douglas’ depth.
Second-team all-league catcher Gabe Burke suffered a broken hand and had surgery on Monday. Quimby expects the injury to end the season for Burke and has moved Baker behind the plate to fill in.
“He caught for a couple of years on the JV level,” Quimby said. “Then he went to the outfield last year and did pretty good.”
South Umpqua is still waiting for not only its league season to begin, but also is seeking its first win of the year.
“We are young and growing, that’s what we are,” said coach Steve Stebbins.
The Lancers have an 0-7-1 record on the year and have had their first league game against St. Mary’s postponed until Friday, when the teams will play a doubleheader in Medford.
South Umpqua has been starting three freshmen and a sophomore this year after graduating five all-league players from a year ago.
Even after a winless start to the year, Stebbins feels like a difficult nonleague schedule has given his squad some experience and the chance to sneak into a postseason position.
“I don’t know if we’re going to win a league title this year, but I think we can sneak into that third spot if we do things right,” Stebbins said. “Get on a little bit of a roll and get some confidence going and play good defense, you’ve got a shot.”