• PREP SOFTBALL

    New kid in town

    North's Barkwell has fit right in, played key role for defending champs
  • No denying it was a bold move by Alexis Barkwell but, in her mind, it was necessary.
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    • ALEXIS BARKWELL
      WHO: A 5-foot-61„2 junior pitcher/first baseman for the North Medford softball team.
      • WHAT: In her first season after transferring from California, Barkwell is 7-0 with a 1.50 ERA ...
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      ALEXIS BARKWELL
      WHO: A 5-foot-61„2 junior pitcher/first baseman for the North Medford softball team.

      • WHAT: In her first season after transferring from California, Barkwell is 7-0 with a 1.50 ERA and ranks second on the team in RBIs (17) and home runs (4) to go with a .333 batting average.
      • UP NEXT: Tuesday, 4:30 p.m., South Medford at North Medford.
  • No denying it was a bold move by Alexis Barkwell but, in her mind, it was necessary.
    Sure it meant leaving all that she knew and loved, well almost all, but the time had come to take ownership of a future she wanted but wasn't sure could be realized.
    "I was not doing all that great in school and I really want to go to college so I needed to make a change," Barkwell says in all sincerity. "I figured with the grades I had I wasn't getting into any college so I needed to make a change and couldn't do it down there so I picked up and moved up here."
    The 16-year-old junior-to-be packed up her suitcases and traded the San Diego lifestyle for a second chance in Medford with her aunt and uncle, Geanie and Dennis Hoffbuhr, last August and hasn't looked back since.
    "It's always been my dream to go to college so I knew I had to do something," she says. "I've been up here visiting my aunt and uncle several times and I've always loved Oregon and wanted to live here at some point in my life, I just didn't know when."
    She certainly didn't think it would be this soon, or the positive results would be so immediate. Barkwell has carried a 3.8 grade-point average during her time at North Medford High and enjoyed the change of pace of life in the Rogue Valley.
    "It's just been a better environment," she says. "The people here are different and I'm more focused. I don't have as many distractions as I did at home with pets and siblings and what-not. I'm all by myself and it's up to me to make a change and I kinda like that."
    While she misses her parents and little sister, who remained home in Escondido, Calif., and friends from Rancho Bernardo High, Barkwell says the welcome she has received from Day 1 in southern Oregon has made her transition an easy one. It's never easy to be the new kid on the block, but she's taken it all in stride.
    "I'm not really bothered by it, it's fun," says the 5-foot-61/2 Barkwell. "It's super-fun because it's a small town and everyone knows everyone. Everywhere I go with my aunt she knows people and introduces me. I didn't know anyone going into it so it's nice to have new people come into my life. It's been nothing but great things for me here."
    Barkwell says the biggest nod toward making her feel comfortable goes to her North Medford softball teammates and coaches. She was introduced to the squad in early September and immediately taken in as one of their own.
    "They've been incredible," she says. "They've welcomed me with open arms and didn't even skip a beat. They are so generous and so connected and they're really a family, it's incredible."
    The process didn't begin without some trepidation, mind you. The Black Tornado program won the Class 6A state title last year — its second crown in four years — and has made team chemistry a prime focus over the years.
    "When you get someone coming in you're never sure what you're going to get," says head coach Mike Mayben, whose team is No. 2 in the 6A power rankings. "You want someone to come in and compete but also be a teammate first and focus on that because that's a huge difference-maker for us. She's been able to come in and do a really good job of that; we really appreciate the kid we got in terms of her attitude."
    Senior teammate Maryssa Becker, last year's Gatorade player of the year for Oregon, says Barkwell's outgoing personality and work ethic made it easy to bring her into the fold.
    "I think she's been a great addition to the team this year," says Becker. "Personality-wise she's really funny but she also knows when to be serious and get down to business. She's a very hard worker and shows up at practice every day with the determination to not only make herself better but also make the team better."
    Barkwell owns a 7-0 record and 1.50 ERA in support of the Louisville-bound Becker (7-1, 0.80 ERA) inside the circle. Both are right-handers but possess different styles to attack batters. Becker has struck out 93 and walked eight in 522/3 innings while Barkwell has 50 strikeouts and 13 walks in 42 innings.
    "She definitely puts a lot more spin on the ball than I do," says Becker. "Her velocity is up there, too, she's not just one of those slow spin the ball around you pitchers, she'll throw it by you, too."
    The biggest assist has been to allow Mayben to not pitch Becker in every inning this season, and allow a couple capable freshman pitchers more time to season their abilities outside of the varsity microscope.
    "I proved to myself that I can pitch every inning if I needed to but last year was also exhausting so this year it's been nice to have Alexis there," says Becker. "Last year we were stuck when Kelsie (Bartley) got hurt and we didn't have that option."
    As someone who mainly pitched and played in the outfield since she began playing softball at age 6, Barkwell has also made the transition to first base without an issue and become one of the more dependable bats in an extremely deep North Medford lineup. Her 17 RBIs and four home runs are second only to Becker's 29 and seven, respectively, and Barkwell is hitting .333 overall with three doubles and eight runs scored. Becker leads the team with a .551 batting average.
    Barkwell has also enjoyed the luxury of being surrounded by other talented teammates like Joci Ellis (.482, 18 runs, 11 RBIs), Katie Ramsay (.452, eight RBIs), Katie Williamson (.347, 10 runs, nine RBIs), Maddie Gates (.327, 13 runs, 10 RBIs), Grace Jovanovic (.314, 13 runs) and Keisha Williams (.311, 11 RBIs, nine runs).
    North Medford is hitting .357 as a team with 14 home runs — Ellis has two and Williamson one — and gap-to-gap power at every turn. Of the Black Tornado's 150 hits, 37 have gone for extra bases to help the team compile a 14-1 overall record and 5-0 mark in Southern Oregon Hybrid play.
    "They're all great girls and they're my best friends," says Barkwell. "We get along so well and are constantly together and can never be too far apart from each other. I've never been a part of something like this. I'm excited to see where this journey will take us."
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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