North Medford junior Katie Williamson didn't hit a ball out of the infield on Friday but, judging by all the postgame smiles, that was just fine with her and the rest of the Black Tornado softball team.
Williamson was the picture of composure and simple execution in a marathon match with Forest Grove in the quarterfinal round of the Class 6A state playoffs, and no groundout ever felt better than the one that sent North Medford into the semifinal round on this day.
The top-seeded Black Tornado had the winning run on third for the third straight inning before Williamson finally settled matters against the Vikings in the bottom of the 11th inning with a crisp shot to the right side for a 2-1 walk-off triumph at North Medford High.
Williamson's clutch effort provided a perfect complement to her battery mate Maryssa Becker, who struck out a career-high 21 and allowed two hits with four walks in a complete-game effort. Becker, a Louisville-bound junior, no-hit the Vikings over the final nine innings and scored the winning run.
"I have complete confidence in our pitcher Maryssa so I knew we could do it," said Williamson. "We just had to work and execute and drive in those runs like we can. It didn't come with a big hit — I mean I didn't even get on — but I just executed and got it to the right side and it worked out."
"I wasn't even running to first, to be honest," she added. "I was just like, 'Please tell me you scored,' and then everyone was coming at me so it was pretty exciting. I was ecstatic."
Becker began the bottom of the 11th on second base due to extra-inning protocol after the ninth inning and immediately advanced to third on a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt by North senior Kelsie Bartley. Williamson did the rest moments later on a ball that forced second baseman Taylor Lira a few steps to her left and then inexplicably was shoveled to first baseman Natalie Sydenstricker for a putout as Becker slid home unchallenged.
"All that was on my mind, really, was to get it to the right side," said Williamson, who also walked once and just missed sealing a North victory on her ninth-inning grounder. "Maryssa's a smart baserunner and I know what she can do there, so as long as I got it to the right side I knew that's all I needed to score that one run. My complete focus was to wait for that outside pitch and get it to the right side."
And get it there she did, allowing North Medford (27-1) to avoid a potential third straight home loss in the quarterfinal round. Instead, the Southern Oregon Hybrid champions will play host to Clackamas (24-4) on Tuesday in hopes of returning to a second state championship game in four years. The Three Rivers League champions, a No. 5 seed overall, beat Aloha 5-4 in the quarterfinals.
"We have confidence in our team and we're excited to get to the semis finally after these last two years of losing in the quarters," said Williamson. "It's a big deal for us. Today just showed how we can battle through adversity."
In Tuesday's other 6A semifinal, Crater (14-15) will play host to second-seeded South Salem (26-2). The Comets, who finished third in the SOH, used a three-run homer by Renee Murphy to edge third-seeded Southridge 6-5 on Friday. The Saxons, champions of the Central Valley Conference, won 6-5 over Glencoe.
Williamson's groundout supplied North Medford its only lead of the game and capped a nail-biter that saw the Black Tornado go down 1-0 in the second on an RBI double by Forest Grove's Karla Broderson. Bartley plated sophomore Joci Ellis, who had two of the Tornado's four hits against senior left-hander Marissa Reichard, with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning to tie the game at 1-all.
"The last two years right here at home we've lost in the quarterfinals and I think in a lot of ways that's really hard to overcome mentally," said North Medford head coach Mike Mayben. "But to stay composed being down 1-0 in the second and getting all the way into the sixth before finally getting something going was crucial. You saw the composure that these kids have. It's easy to crack and just bobble a ball or drop a ball or not quite get it to first, and our kids didn't do that today."
Becker was especially impressive, if only for her resolve to not give in when things weren't looking good for her early on against Forest Grove (21-8). The Vikings finished as the Pacific Conference runner-up and entered the playoffs seeded ninth overall.
Reichard singled on the game's first pitch and ultimately reached third base before Becker regrouped from a 10-pitch walk to Lira and a wild pitch to strike out Taylor Schmitt with no harm done. A leadoff walk to Allison Thorud in the second came back to haunt Becker when Broderson laced a one-out double to the right-center gap for Forest Grove's second hit and a 1-0 lead. Williamson helped negate further damage when she threw out Broderson on her attempt to steal third.
Through it all, Becker was visibly searching for an answer to what was out of whack on Friday.
"Today it just kinda felt weird and when I went out there, something just didn't feel right and I couldn't quite figure it out," she admitted. "I kinda got a little mad because I knew that I wasn't doing up to my potential. Then in the third inning, I just went out there and tried to throw harder so I could at least get it there fast, even if it's not spinning good enough."
With encouragement from Williamson and tremendous defensive support from Ellis at shortstop, Hannah Leming at second base and Bartley at first base, Becker finally was able to right the ship. The right-hander sat the Vikings down in order in the final seven innings, the last coming by virtue of a nifty shoestring catch by Ellis and relay to Leming for a double play in the top of the 11th.
"She's been stronger as the game goes on," said Mayben. "Even into the late innings of this game you could see that her pitches were moving better, she felt more confident and she was throwing pitches where she wanted to throw them. Kids that earlier in the game had great at-bats against her struggled a little more."
Forest Grove certainly didn't shy away from the challenge and battled to the end, largely on the strength of the senior Reichard, who was the first lefty the Tornado faced all season. Reichard struck out 14, walked three and allowed four hits in going the distance.
"That's the one thing about our team all season is our girls never quit playing," said Vikings head coach Trevor Tusow. "Multiple times (North Medford) had runners at second and third late in the game with no outs or one out and our girls battled. We knew that we were good enough to hang with them and you end up with an 11-inning game that comes down to the play that it did. It was just a great game of softball."
Forest Grove 010 000 000 00 — 1 2 1
North Medford 000 001 000 01 — 2 4 1
Reichard and Broderson; Becker and Williamson. W — Becker (24-0). L — Reichard (21-8). 2B — FG: Broderson; NM: Ellis, Bartley.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry