Two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine Spencer Smith and Tucker Campbell playing college baseball at the same school.
Now, they’re not only on the same team, but they are two key pieces of a Lane squad that is on the verge of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Smith, a center fielder, and Campbell, the Titans’ starting shortstop, are two of the top bats in the Titans’ lineup. Smith is second on the team in batting average and leads in stolen bases, while Campbell is tied for second in RBIs and doubles.
They shined on the defensive end as well. Smith has played nearly error-free defense in the outfield, while Campbell is one of the top defensive shortstops in the conference according to Lane head coach Josh Blunt.
“Both of those two have a really similar style of play that stands out,” Blunt said “They play hard all the time. They help other players all the time. Just watching them run on and off the field, they have an energy to their game. They’re coaches on the field.”
Although they are cornerstones of a team full of sophomores who are hungry for a regional title, both Smith and Campbell took unconventional paths to arrive at this point.
Both players attended Tigard High School in Tigard and helped lead the Tigers to a second-round appearance in the 2012 6A Oregon School Activities Association playoffs during Smith’s senior and Campbell’s junior years.
Campbell’s grandfather, Tom Campbell, coached them during their entire high school careers, and helped instill the same disciplined style of baseball that is obvious while watching them play today.
“We really focus on our defense, both infield and outfield,” Campbell said. “And also baserunning. You don’t always have the luxury of having a great offensive team, but you can always run the bases well. So our emphasis has been baserunning and bunting the ball and just executing on things that you have control over.“
Until Smith’s junior season, he played second base and combined with Campbell to form the middle of the Tigers’ infield.
While Smith says they were a solid double play duo, Campbell jokes that wasn’t the case. “I was,” Campbell said. “I had to kind of make up for him.”
It wasn’t until his senior year that Smith made the move to center field, after impressing Tom Campbell one day while running down fly balls during batting practice.
“After talking to another coach, we said ‘lets take a look at him in the outfield,’” Campbell said. “He went in and he looked like he had played there his entire life. He transitioned almost instantly to the outfield and he just got better and better from that point on”
After his senior season, Tom and not playing was the difference in us not making the playoffs.” Campbell, who had a good relationship with former Titans head coach Dean Styles, encouraged Smith to attend Lane. Although he was recruited by Styles, Smith played his freshman year under Blunt after Styles accepted a job as pitching coach at the University of Oregon.
During the 2012 season, Smith was one of the Titans’ top players. He was second on the team in hits and runs scored, and was selected to the NWAACC Southern Region All-Star team.
However, during the 2012-13 school year, Smith chose to dual-enroll at Lane and UO, and ended up sitting out the 2013 baseball season in order to focus on academics and clear up enrollment issues.
While some would have seen a season away from the game as a setback, Smith, who still practiced and traveled with the team, found a way to use it to his advantage.
“I actually feel like it was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Smith said. “I was able to take a year and really develop some of the aspects of my game that I hadn’t been able to before. It definitely heightened my appreciation for the game.”
Blunt said Smith is one of the few players he’s seen who used their year off wisely.
“As good of a leader as he was, he got to be a better leader,” Blunt said. “I thought the difference between him playing and not playing was the difference in us not making the playoffs.”
While Smith spent the 2013 season on the sideline, Campbell was enrolled at Linfield College in McMinnville, where he played one year for the Wildcats.
Although he saw little playing time there, Campbell gained valuable experience playing for a Wildcats team that was crowned Division III national champions.
“Every day at practice was really competitive,” Campbell said. “It was almost game-like every single day at practice and it was something that was realy cool to be a part of.”
Campbell said that midway through the season he knew that he wanted to transfer to a larger school where he would have the opportunity for more playing time.
He had considered Lane after high school and knew that with the Titans he would have a chance to improve his skills and increase his chances of moving on to the next level.
He was comfortable switching cities because he had a lot of friends already living in Eugene, but admitted that Smith being on the team helped ease the transition to Lane.
“Playing in college with him was something I was always very interested in, but I didn’t think it would happen,” Campbell said. “He was always one of my favorite guys to play with, and that’s another reason that I came to Lane. Because I knew he was going to be here.”