Lane baseball: New coach looks to lead Titans to a higher level

03/17/2011 08:52

Former UO assistant Dean Stiles takes over at Lane, hoping to build a breeding ground for Division-I talent

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Former Oregon assistant Dean Stiles moved across town to Lane Community College last fall to help coach the baseball team and introduce the program to the basic principles of what he likes to call the “Oregon way.”

Four months later, at the start of winter term in January, Stiles took over as head coach, replacing Rob Strickland, who resigned after leading the Titans for seven years.

“It has been exciting and very satisfying so far,” Stiles said. “The kids have really bought into the system and the structure we’ve brought here.”

Stiles, 50, is a lifelong baseball man and former UO player who returned to Eugene with his family four years ago and quickly established himself within the local baseball scene through his affiliation with Baseball Northwest, which coaches high-level players on traveling and showcase teams.

He also served as a bullpen/pitching coach and administrative assistant on George Horton’s staff at Oregon for the past three years.

“Coach Horton has been the ultimate mentor,” said Stiles, who’s also coached high school baseball in Oregon and California and was the general manager of the Bend Bandits of the Western Baseball League.

“What we do here is modeled after what Oregon does. We’re trying to create a Division-I atmosphere at the school so the players are able to move on to the next level and be ready. That’s kind of our mantra.”

This season’s team bears little resemblance to the 2010 team that went 33-17 and ended the regular season winning 18 of its last 20 games to make the Northwest Athletic Association of Community College’s postseason tournament, where it lost in the championship series to Lower Columbia.

Only eight players returned from last season and only five of those have played this season. Two players, NWAACC saves leader Nick Phillips (12 saves, 0.72 ERA) and right-handed starter Chris Reed (6-1, 1.12 ERA), are injured.

Stiles said they will attempt to redshirt Reed as he recovers from a back injury, and they’re guardedly optimistic Phillips can return at some point from an impingement in his throwing shoulder.

Still, the Titans are 4-2 so far and have five nonleague games left before starting Southern Region play with a home doubleheader against Chemeketa on March 29.

“We’re doing it with smoke and mirrors right now, to be honest with you,” Stiles said. “But we’ve had guys step in and we said from Day 1 that we’d need to do it with all 30 guys.”

Lane has received immediate production from a handful of new — and well-known — additions to the roster in outfielders Darrell Hunter and Tym Pearson, starter Ben Higgins and catcher/pitcher Skip Spencer.

Hunter, like Pearson and Spencer, is a former standout for Thurston High School. He was the first player signed to a scholarship by Horton when he began building the new Oregon team three years ago.

Hunter played in 2009 for the Ducks but sat out last season as he recovered from a concussion. He then transferred to Lane.

“I think he finally has found his comfort zone,” Stiles said. “His swing is coming around. He’s finding his way again.”

The 6-foot-3 Hunter, who has bulked up to 230 pounds, is hitting a team-high .333 with three home runs and eight RBIs.

Pearson, a standout quarterback for the Colts who once accepted a football scholarship at Portland State, played baseball last season at Columbia Basin in Pasco, Wash.

He’s hitting .263 out of the three spot and playing center field.

Spencer was playing at the Division-I level last season at Seattle University. However, he was being used mainly as a pitcher and wanted to get more time playing at catcher and chose to make the move to Lane for one season. He’s been platooning at catcher, hitting .143, and also has a 0.64 ERA with nine strikeouts as a pitcher.

“He’s a two-way guy for us,” Stiles said. “He’s really passionate about catching, and he also hits 90-91 (mph) pitching. He’s a special kid.”

In Higgins, who like Pearson was coached and trained by Stiles in Eugene over the summer, the Titans have a No. 1 starter. The Sheldon product, who transferred to Lane from Linfield College, is 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA in 13 innings.

“He’s going to be an impact player for us,” Stiles said.

An impact is also what Stiles wants to have on the program and his players.

“If Oregon ever needs a program where kids can develop, we want to do that,” Stiles said. “If Oregon State needs a program where kids can develop, we want to do that.

“I want kids to develop and get to the next level.”