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Brock Breshears and Jordan Kendall keep Molalla at bay in the Huskies' league-opening series.

by: JO WHEAT - Hunter Beachy and his fellow pitchers helped the North Marion baseball team climb to the No. 1 spot in the Class 4A rankings.North Marion baseball coach Randy Brack felt himself getting upset with pitcher Jordan Kendall for giving up too many free bases.

But after the Huskies finished off an 8-1 victory over Molalla at home April 9 to sweep their first two-game series of the regular season, Brack was able to put the junior’s performance in perspective.

Kendall, after all, had thrown a complete game with eight strikeouts while giving up just two hits and one run.

“It seemed like he walked 14 because we’re not used to walking four guys,” Brack said. “So four seemed like a lot. But most high school pitchers would be glad to only walk four guys. I’ve become accustomed to the walks staying down.”

For Brack, the skills of Kendall and the rest of his team’s pitching staff go a long way in explaining North Marion’s remarkable run to start the season.

Entering a key two-game series against La Salle Prep, which is slated to begin April 15, the Huskies (12-1, 2-0 in the Tri-Valley Conference) own the No. 1 ranking in Class 4A as they seek to defend their league title and make a run in the state playoffs.

And even though North Marion’s lineup features the reigning conference player of the year (Kyle Williamson), the 2013 league pitcher of the year (Brock Breshears) and an all-state honoree (Tristan Wampole), Brack said he was surprised by his team’s success during a formidable nonconference slate that featured several opponents from the two largest athletic classifications.

“With the preseason schedule that we put together, it was totally unexpected,” he said. “Record-wise, we’re much better than I thought we would be at this time. Playing-wise, we’ve still got plenty of room for improvement. We do a lot of things well, but nothing great. That gives us a chance to be in position to win games, but we do still have room for improvement.”

The Huskies haven’t simply obliterated their opponents, but Brack is encouraged by his players’ poise in close games. They’ve logged five wins by two runs or fewer, including one-run triumphs over Lakeridge, Tillamook and Astoria in their final three preseason games.

Thanks in part to Kendall and Breshears as well as fellow pitchers Emry Patterson and Hunter Beachy, North Marion is giving up an average of just 2.4 runs per game.

“We don’t have anybody who has overpowering stuff, but we’ve got four pitchers who have been in the strike zone and changed speeds and found ways to get hitters out,” Brack said. “They’re giving themselves a chance. And they’ve got good defense behind them.”

The dynamic is much different now than it was in 1971, when the Huskies relied heavily on Gary Hopkins to win their first — and, so far, only — state title in school history under then-coach Junior Sato.

Hopkins threw a no-hitter in the championship game that year as part of a 3-0 win over Sherwood.

“We just put a saddle on him and rode him,” said Brack, who was a member of North Marion’s state-title squad. “Back in those days, you could do that. He was just a dominating pitcher. That was basically a staff of one.

“We don’t have that. Now, we spread the pitching out a lot. ... But these guys are smart enough to know their fastball isn’t the most powerful, so it’s, ‘I better keep it down, keep it away, throw a breaking ball, throw a change.’ We just pitch smart.”

In the Huskies’ first conference game, a 9-1 win over Molalla on the road April 7, Breshears (5-0) gave up just one walk in seven innings to remain undefeated on the mound.

North Marion was locked in a 1-1 tie through four innings but pulled away by plating three runs in the fifth frame, four in the sixth and one in the seventh. It was the program’s eighth league-opening victory in the last nine seasons.

Two days later, the Huskies swung for a season-high 11 hits to complete their two-game sweep of Molalla (4-6, 0-2). Their offensive onslaught featured three-straight doubles by Williamson, Patterson and junior Shane McKillip to start the evening.

As for how North Marion is handling its success, Brack said his team knows to expect an all-out effort from each opponent but added that it must avoid getting caught up in rankings with so much of the league season remaining.

“We try to keep everything even-keel,” Brack said. “The bulls-eye gets a little bit bigger, and you’ve got to be ready to play whoever because they want to beat you. Everybody in the league is coming for us. Hopefully, we keep things in perspective.”

Follow Jeff Goodman on Twitter.

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