Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
CORVALLIS — North Medford's softball team didn't need any adversity to show its true poise in the Class 6A state championships on Saturday.
After three straight games of falling behind and needing extra innings to decide matters, the top-seeded Black Tornado confidently walked out on the field here at the Oregon State University Softball Complex and took what the girls firmly believed was rightfully theirs all along.
North Medford junior pitcher Maryssa Becker was her dominant self inside the circle and got a nice gift in the form of a 2-0, second-inning lead on South Salem that proved more than enough on this day.
Becker fanned 15 — striking out the side in three of the seven innings — and allowed only four hits with no walks to help power North Medford to a 3-0 win over the second-seeded Saxons for the Black Tornado's second state title in four years and sixth overall.
"It's amazing and no feeling compares to this, no feeling," said North senior second baseman Hannah Leming, who also was a starter on the 2009 squad. "Especially winning it like this, knowing we earned it and won it straight up, no feeling can beat this "… ever."
The win was the 24th straight this season for North Medford (29-1), with the only blemish being a 3-1 setback to Southridge on March 26 in the second game of the day at the North Medford Invitational. In the earlier game, the Black Tornado had beaten South Salem 5-0.
"That's a phenomenal team," said seventh-year North Medford head coach Mike Mayben. "Their group of hitters are fantastic and what Maryssa did today was outstanding. I wouldn't want to play them five times. We've shut them out twice but I guarantee if you give them enough opportunities they're going to score a bunch of runs."
Three of the Saxons' hits on Saturday came from speedy leadoff hitter Kelly Burdick on choppers through the left side, with the fourth coming after a diving stop by shortstop Joci Ellis against Kelsie Gardner with one out in the seventh. Becker induced an out — three of them by strikeout — after each hit.
"She was definitely the pitcher that we kinda expected," said Saxons head coach Scott McCormick, whose team was also stymied by Becker on a two-hitter during the 5-0 win on March 26. "She controlled the game and really didn't give us any opportunities. I was impressed with the way she managed the game. She had our kids' number all the way through."
For good measure, Becker also added an RBI single in the seventh inning in a very composed but electric effort against the Saxons (27-3). The right-hander remained steady through the playoffs but admitted to some nerves on the bus ride up from Medford Saturday, but those all went away when the team arrived in Corvallis.
"I felt pretty good today," she said. "The mound was really good and they're aggressive hitters and so I think that helps me get the strikes that I needed."
The hardest hit ball of the day also turned into no more than a footnote by Becker, who snagged a hot comebacker by Texas Tech-bound Lauran Bliss with two outs and a runner on second in the bottom of the sixth.
"She was on target the whole time," Leming said of her pitcher. "She was hitting her spots and I think she really wanted this game for us seniors, for sure. She knew that we wanted it and she wanted it, too, and she just pitched absolutely amazing."
Helping matters was an early offensive attack that saw North Medford load the bases in the top of the first inning before finally striking with a pair of runs in the second. Marissa Gann dropped in a leadoff single between the shortstop Gardner and charging center fielder Kaley Stauff and was sacrificed to second on a nice bunt by fellow senior Sierra Berryessa. After South Salem sophomore ace Katie Donovan picked up a second out on a strikeout, Leming came through with a flare down the right field line that led to a diving effort by second baseman Burdick where the ball skipped off her outstretched glove.
"The whole way I was thinking I'm getting two if she drops it," said Leming. "I saw her lay out and it can go either way, she catches it or she drops it, and I saw her drop it and I just ran to second thinking, 'Well, whatever works.'"
Gann easily scored on the play for a 1-0 lead and Leming didn't have long to wait on second base as the sophomore Ellis ripped an RBI single up the middle to score her teammate for a 2-0 lead in the second. It was Ellis' second hit against Donovan.
"Joci definitely is a stud, for sure," added Leming, who finished 3-for-4 with one run and one RBI. "I don't even have words for how amazing she is and how much she came through right there."
The early lead proved to be a pleasant surprise for Becker, who hadn't seen much of a lead since North Medford opened the state playoffs with an 8-0 lead over Lakeridge. The remaining Tornado victories were one-run games that went nine innings, 11 innings and nine innings again leading up to the state final.
"We haven't done that all playoffs it seems like," said Becker. "We just said before the game to hit the ball and make the defense work and keep the pressure on them until we do score a run. We got lucky there with a couple hits and it all came together."
Even with that advantage, Becker wasn't ready to close the book on the Saxons.
"I honestly didn't know if it was enough until the third out in the last inning," she said, "but just getting those runs was really important. No matter how many you get it's never enough, but I knew that getting at least a couple it would probably be enough for our defense."
The Tornado made her true to her word, supporting Becker with a smoking liner hauled in by freshman right fielder Grace Jovanovic and a key effort in the sixth after the pitcher threw a comebacker into center field but was saved when Berryessa quickly threw to third baseman Maddie Gates to nab lead runner Burdick.
"We've approached a few games like this team's got a chance," said Mayben, who worked the girls through the elements of John Wooden's Pyramid of Success during the season. "Today, watching them warm up they were so confident and so poised. I know inside they were a nervous wreck but their outer appearance and what that did for their teammates was crucial. It takes one nervous kid to affect a team. You have to have 15 positive, confident, poised kids to win a ballgame and that's what we had."
And that's why they can all be called state champions.
north medford south salem
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Leming 4 2 3 1 Burdick 2b 3 0 3 0
Ellis ss 4 0 2 1 Stauff cf 3 0 0 0
Becker p 3 0 1 1 Bliss c 3 0 0 0
Arppagis pr 0 0 0 0 Reece 1b 3 0 0 0
Bartley 1b 2 0 0 0 Gardner ss 3 0 1 0
Wlliamson c 3 0 0 0 Donovan p 2 0 0 0
Wllms pr-ph 1 0 0 0 Carr ph 1 0 0 0
Draper dp 3 0 0 0 Polacek rf 3 0 0 0 Gann lf 3 1 1 0 Brakebill 3b 2 0 0 0 Berryessa cf 2 0 0 0 Coates lf 2 0 0 0
Jovanovic rf 3 0 1 0
Gates 3b 0 0 0 0
Totals 28 3 8 2 Totals 25 0 4 0
North Medford 020 000 1 —3
South Salem 000 000 0 —0
E—Becker, Burdick, Stauff. LOB—North Medford 9, South Salem 4. 2B—Leming. SH—Bartley, Berryessa. SB—Burdick 2, Gardner.
IP H R ER BB SO
Becker W,26-0 7 4 0 0 0 15
Donovan L,21-2 7 8 3 2 2 9
WP—Donovan. HBP—by Donovan (Williamson). PB—Bliss. Umpires—Home, Dennis Erickson First, Don Thompson Third, Joey Free. T—1:52.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry