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...
Something had to give when the tycoons of Class 6A softball met at North Medford High on Monday.
For the host Black Tornado, that meant settling on a split against two of Oregon's top squads and taking its first loss in a year.
North edged South Salem 1-0 in a rematch of last season's 6A state championship before coming up just short in a dramatic 4-3 defeat to heavyweight Glencoe during round-robin action at the 36-team North Medford Invitational.
The three schools each feature future NCAA Division I pitchers: North's Maryssa Becker (Louisville), Glencoe's Katie Sutherland-Finch (California) and South Salem's Katie Donovan (Utah).
The Black Tornado (6-1) had not felt defeat since falling 3-1 to Southridge on the opening day of the same tournament on March 26 of last year. North went on to finish 29-1 and defeated the Saxons 3-0 in the 2012 state final.
"This is our opportunity to schedule teams that we believe are at the top of the state," North head coach Mike Mayben said.
Becker was a force on Monday. The senior pitched a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts and one walk against South Salem (6-1). At the plate, she drove in what turned out to be the game-winning run after Joci Ellis tripled and then came home on Becker's single to right field in the bottom of the first inning.
Becker accounted for all of the Black Tornado's offense against Glencoe (4-1), but it was still not quite enough. She crushed a solo home run in the first inning to bring her squad to within one run of the Crimson Tide and — in a tension-filled situation — she belted a two-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to again cut North's deficit to one. With her team trailing 4-3 following Becker's homer to left center, Katie Williamson singled to left and then Katie Ramsay moved to first on an infield single to keep the Black Tornado's comeback bid alive. Keisha Williams popped up to the shortstop to end the thrilling affair.
Becker, who was 3-for-4 against Glencoe, had an uncharacteristic outing in the circle, giving up 10 hits and three walks to go along with seven strikeouts.
Sutherland-Finch surrendered 11 hits and two walks to go along with 11 strikeouts.
The Crimson Tide — which fell 2-1 to South Salem on Monday — stranded 10 runners, while North left nine on base.
"They hit the ball as hard off of Becker as we've seen anybody do," Mayben said. "Neither team could generate a ton of runs off hits though."
Ramsay was 2-for-3 and Ellis and Williamson were both 2-for-4 against Glencoe.
Sutherland-Finch and Lauren Messmer hit back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning before Mana Dendinger pounded a run-scoring triple and Kylie Surratt added an RBI double in the fifth to put their squad ahead 4-1.
The Black Tornado made two errors against the Crimson Tide.
"We were disappointed in having the errors," Mayben said. "We have a team that prides itself on defense."
Donovan, a junior, fanned 10 and allowed three hits and no walks in the pitchers' duel with Becker. The Saxons got a runner to second base in the third, fourth and seventh innings. In the seventh, Raina Reece led off with a single to right, Donovan was walked and then Rachel Polacek tried to bunt but missed the ball. Reece broke for third and was thrown out by catcher Williamson. Becker sealed the winning deal with consecutive strikeouts.
Becker was 2-for-3 against South Salem.
Mayben said his team showed tremendous composure on the day.
"Last year they had great composure and this year they've shown that same composure," Mayben said. "That has been our staple."
The Black Tornado hosts undefeated Southridge (4-0) at 10 a.m. today at North Medford High. North takes on West Salem (7-1) at 2 p.m. at the same venue.
South Salem 000 000 0 — 0 3 0
North Medford 100 000 0 — 1 3 1
Donovan and Reece; Becker and Williamson. W — Becker (4-0). L — Donovan. 2B — SS: Perez-Quintero; NM: Becker.
Glencoe 200 020 0 — 4 10 0
North Medford 100 000 2 — 3 11 2
Sutherland-Finch and Surratt; Becker and Williamson. W — Sutherland-Finch. L — Becker (4-1). 2B — G: Clayton, Sutherland-Finch, Messmer, Surratt. 3B — G: Dendinger. HR — NM: Becker 2 (5).