It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
North Medford junior Maryssa Becker showed she was capable of doing just about anything Tuesday, and her Black Tornado softball team needed every bit of what she had to offer to push past South Medford.
Becker smacked an RBI double in the first inning, plated another run in the third on a suicide squeeze bunt and added an RBI single off the center-field fence in the seventh inning to help North Medford gradually pull away from the Panthers for a 6-0 Southern Oregon Hybrid victory.
The Louisville-bound standout also struck out 14 and allowed only two hits with two walks and two hit batters in a complete-game effort that boosted her season record to 10-0.
"She's in control right now," North Medford head coach Mike Mayben said of the power-pitching right-hander. "She feels comfortable, she's confident and she knows the circumstances of where she's at as our pitcher."
Expected to share pitching duties with senior Kelsie Bartley, Becker has had to shoulder the load over the past eight games since Bartley has been sidelined by shoulder tightness. Becker entered Tuesday's contest with a 0.58 ERA and improved her pitching numbers to 114 strikeouts against 19 walks.
"You know when you're going to face her she's going to throw the ball well and she's going to play to your weaknesses," said South Medford head coach Miranda Gillaspie-Smith. "If you're going to chase the high pitch, then she's going to keep throwing the high pitch. Who wouldn't? We needed to come out and put the ball in play and put pressure on them, but we weren't able to put anything together. You may get one or two hits but, obviously, you need to string them together."
North Medford (13-1, 5-0 SOH) wasn't doing its cross-town foe any favors when the Panthers (2-10, 1-6) were able to get the bat on the ball, with shortstop Joci Ellis especially making tough plays look routine. Junior catcher Katie Williamson also threw a runner out at third base to deny a scoring threat in the fifth inning.
"This year, Katie and I have really been working on consistency in getting strikes and working ahead of batters, and that's just helped me become a stronger pitcher," said Becker. "Then having the defense behind me always helps, too. I always know that they will have my back. Joci made a couple great plays today. I love having her behind me at shortstop. It's incredible how fast she can get to the ball."
With Becker on top of her game, South Medford pitching counterpart Kylee Nunez didn't have much room for error and she came through with a solid effort to keep North from putting up any big surges. The senior right-hander struck out two, walked one and allowed 12 hits — only one for extra bases.
"She threw a very nice ballgame today after having a great outing Saturday against Roseburg," said Gillaspie-Smith. "She's not walking people and that's the biggest thing we talked about is to compete and throw groundballs and that's what she did today. She's keeping us in the ballgame when she does that."
Becker's RBI double in the first inning gave her team a 1-0 lead and the Black Tornado had to manufacture a pair of runs in the third inning. With one out and Grace Jovanovic on third base and Ellis on second base, Mayben switched things up and signaled for Becker to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt.
"Mike likes to get creative," Becker said with a laugh. "He's always had confidence in me and that's one thing that I've worked on is being able to do whatever he needs me to do to help the team. If we have runners in scoring position, I'll hit them in or maybe pull off a bunt, who knows."
Becker was able to drop down a bunt with Jovanovic racing down the line, although it only went about three feet in front of the plate on the muddy South Medford High field.
"I was a little nervous because it went right in front of home plate," Becker admitted, "so I was like, 'Go ,Grace, go," because I didn't know if she was going to make it there in time."
Jovanovic was able to make it to the plate in time before South catcher Katie Ramsay could make a play, and Sierra Berryessa followed with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to left field to make it 3-0 before Nunez got out of the inning with a groundout.
Hannah Leming's RBI single in the fourth scored Marissa Gann for a 4-0 lead before South mounted its own threat in the bottom of the frame. After Nunez was denied on a nice play by Ellis, senior Ricki Tacdol smoked a single through the left side. Tacdol was stranded, however, after Becker sandwiched a hit batter (Ramsay) with a pair of strikeouts.
It went that way for the bulk of Tuesday, with Becker and company capable of squashing any South threat.
In the fifth, Kelcee Jones earned a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch but was stranded when the Panthers failed to get a bunt down, had another strikeout and saw Jones get thrown out trying to steal third.
Ramsay helped her team's cause by throwing out Berryessa trying to steal in the sixth inning, and the Panthers appeared to use that momentum to mount a rally in the bottom half of the frame.
After Ellis again denied a hot shot at shortstop, this one by Olivia Beamish-White, Nunez hit a liner over Berryessa in center field for a one-out double. Becker dialed it up a notch to strike out Tacdol for the second out, but Sam Owirka's hard grounder got under the glove of third baseman Maddie Gates and put South runners on second and third with Ramsay up to bat. Unfortunately, Ramsay would again not get a chance to play hero as Becker hit her for the second time in the game. She then shrugged off the loaded bases to strike out Shelbi Boteilho.
"We had opportunities with runners on second and third with one of our toughest kids up to bat and we don't get the break that we need," said Gillaspie-Smith. "We're looking for her to put something into play and then she gets hit on a ball four again."
In the seventh, Leming singled up the middle and was safe at second base on a missed fielder's choice attempt on an Ellis grounder. Becker followed with an RBI shot off the center-field fence and Ellis eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Williamson to close out a game that was closer than the final score indicated.
"South's a quality team," said Mayben. "We hit the ball hard at times and they made some nice plays. They played very well today and Nunez pitched well, too. She kept us in on the hands quite a bit and then would roll it away and we hit some weak groundballs to the right side, which is uncharacteristic."
"For both pitchers, this had to be a hard day," he added. "I would not want to have to throw on a field like this, and both pitchers did a good job of dealing with the poor circle and those type of things."
As for Mayben's other pitcher, Bartley, she was in uniform Tuesday but not in the lineup after visiting the doctor and receiving a cortisone injection to help the muscle tightness she's been experiencing. The senior right-hander has been able to throw overhand and play first base without issue, and her time away from the pitcher's circle has purely been precautionary. Mayben said he expects to have her back in the lineup on Saturday and likely pitching again in short order. Bartley last pitched March 26 in an eventual 3-1 loss to Southridge.
"Right now we're just resting her and hoping that it heals up on its own," said Mayben. "The sad thing is Kelsie was throwing phenomenal, too, until she started noticing some tightness against Southridge. She had really improved even on where she's been the last two years for us."
North Medford 102 100 2 — 6 12 1
South Medford 000 000 0 — 0 2 0
Becker and Williamson; Nunez and Ramsay. W — Becker (10-0). L — Nunez (2-7). 2B — NM: Becker; SM: Nunez.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry