Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
Putting the ball in play more than your opponent is as good of a strategy for victory as any, and North Medford certainly used that to its advantage during a key Southern Oregon Hybrid softball doubleheader on Friday.
The SOH-leading Black Tornado patiently pounded out 19 hits overall and used the pitching of Maryssa Becker and Alexis Barkwell to strikeout second-place Roseburg for 26 of the 42 outs in securing a sweep, 8-0 and 7-1.
With the win, North Medford (18-1, 9-0 SOH) clinched no worse than a share for the conference title, and will stake its claim for an outright crown next Saturday at South Medford. Roseburg fell to 12-5 and 6-3 in SOH play.
"That was huge for us," Tornado junior shortstop Joci Ellis said of securing a sweep of the three-game series with the Indians.
The top seven batters in North Medford's lineup had one hit in the opening victory, while Ellis (3-for-4, two runs, two RBIs) and Michelle Draper (3-for-3, one run, one RBI) managed half of the Tornado's hits in the nightcap.
Most of that damage came against Roseburg senior ace Makinna Akers, who has consistently been one of the SOH's best but faced an uphill battle Friday.
"Games always have a little bit of up and a little bit of down but today you just kinda felt like we kept progressing and kept getting better at the plate," said North Medford head coach Mike Mayben. "I think (Akers) struck us out 10 or 11 times the last time we saw her and we got rid of that this game. We didn't allow her to throw that rise ball and swing through it, and that made a huge difference in just being able to kinda stay in control of the game. (Roseburg's) a really good team and to be able to just keep rolling and never give them momentum was huge."
Most of the credit for limiting the Indians' opportunities was due to Becker, who pitched all but one inning and continued her dominance over Roseburg. The senior right-hander struck out 13 batters and allowed only one hit with no walks in the Game 1 shutout, then fanned 12 with no walks and four hits allowed in Game 2. Barkwell had one strikeout in her only inning pitched in Game 1.
In the first meeting between the teams, Becker struck out 17 and allowed only one hit in a 6-1 victory. On Friday, she also went 4-for-7 with two runs and one RBI.
"It's the same story with Becker because she's so consistent and she's such a great teammate," said Mayben. "We kinda follow that lead. That focus in the circle and what she's doing is phenomenal for us."
As someone who has carved her path as a power pitcher over the past two years inside the circle for North Medford, the Louisville-bound Becker put her growth on full display Friday by changing speeds, hitting spots and overpowering on occasion to stymie Roseburg.
The only hit Becker allowed in the opener was a chopper by Baylee Wyscaver that bounded over her head and rolled into center field. The hardest ball hit by the Indians came from Sydney Reynolds in Game 2 with a one-out, first-inning triple that skipped by a diving Ellis and rolled to the left-center field fence. Only one other ball made it into the outfield against Becker.
While Roseburg was having trouble putting the ball in play, North Medford was busy chipping away with baserunners until finally breaking through for a seven-run fourth inning in the opener.
Consecutive singles by Becker, Katie Williamson, Katie Ramsay and Alexis Barkwell allowed the Tornado to build a 2-0 lead, then Keisha Williams supplied a fielder's choice grounder that led to a run when Ramsay deftly avoided a tag at home.
After Draper walked to load the bases, Grace Jovanovic boosted the lead to 4-0 by drawing a walk and then Ellis added an RBI single. The final two runs scored when Becker's hot shot to shortstop Megan Larkin was initially bobbled and then thrown away at first base to make it 7-0.
"Last game we left a lot of people in scoring position so we just tried to put our hits together this time and get them on in," said Ellis.
The Tornado tacked on its final run in the sixth when Ellis' line drive fell out of the glove of left fielder Jayde McDowell for a two-base error. She moved to third when no one covered a pickoff attempt at second base by catcher Jacey Conklin and scored on a crisp single by Maddie Gates.
The second game started well for Roseburg with Reynolds' triple and then back-to-back fielder's choice grounders that didn't result in any outs as Reynolds barely beat a throw home by Gates and Larkin was ruled safe at second when it was deemed Ellis hadn't touched the bag on a double-play attempt.
After a sacrifice bunt, Becker stranded both runners in scoring position with a strikeout of Wyscaver.
Ellis opened North Medford's first at-bat with a shot down the left field line for a double and, after moving to third on a fielder's choice, scored when Becker put down a squeeze bunt.
The Tornado added three runs in the second inning behind one-out singles by Williams and Draper and a ripped two-run double to left-center by Ellis. Gates followed with another sharp single to right field for a 4-1 cushion.
Becker's double to the fence in the fifth inning set off another three-run surge, with Barkwell supplying a sacrifice fly for one RBI. Williams added another on a towering double that one-hopped its way to the left field fence, and then Draper cleaned things up with yet another single to center field.
The bottom five hitters for North wound up driving in seven of the 15 runs and scoring eight times.
"It doesn't matter at all who we have up, we have strong hitters all through the lineup," said Ellis. "It's nice to know that if you're not having a good day then someone's going to pick you up and be able to hit."
Roseburg 000 000 0 — 0 1 4
North Medford 000 701 x — 8 7 0
Akers, Hunt (6) and Conklin; Becker, Barkwell (7) and Williamson. W — Becker (10-1). L — Akers.
Roseburg 100 000 0 — 1 4 0
North Medford 130 030 x — 7 12 0
Akers, Hunt (5), Akers (5) and Conklin; Becker and Williamson. W — Becker (11-1). L — Akers. 2B — NM: Ellis 2, Becker, Williams. 3B — R: Reynolds.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry