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...
Nothing in life is guaranteed, and Southridge's baseball team went about proving that fact in off-and-on rain Wednesday afternoon at North Medford High.
Facing the favored and top-seeded Black Tornado in the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs, the Skyhawks of Beaverton were dialed in from the opening pitch and wound up shocking the system with an impressive 9-3 road victory.
Southridge scored three first-inning runs, added two more in the second and eventually took a 9-0 lead before North Medford could break through in the second game in three days for both teams.
"They came out and they stung the ball, the first three hits were just bang-bang-bang and they put the ball in the gap each time," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe. "They jumped ahead and what that does is the momentum swings to their side. If you can score first that's a huge advantage, and I think once they jumped ahead they got a lot of confidence and then we were battling uphill at that point."
Southridge (17-12) advances to host a quarterfinal matchup on Friday against Lake Oswego, which was a 7-5 winner over Central Catholic. The Skyhawks have won four straight and six of their last seven.
The Black Tornado (22-7) sat atop the 6A power rankings almost the entire season and proved why with a spirited attempt at a rally in the final three innings but the Skyhawks always seemed to find a way to keep the floodgates from opening.
North Medford scored two runs in the fifth inning thanks to a one-out single by Christian Gillis, an RBI triple by Brett Pearson and a wild pitch. Austin Zavala then ripped a two-out double to the left field fence but Southridge starter Parker Stidham limited the damage by striking out Micah Brown to end the frame.
The sixth inning began with a promising double by David Crofton and single by Hayden Evans but, again, North Medford was snake-bitten by a key Southridge effort. Jared Evans laced a ball that short-hopped shortstop Jacob Zanon, who essentially put his glove down with his head still up but came up with a treasured double play that allowed only one run to cross in the inning.
"We've had four consecutive games where we've absolutely played some near-perfect defense for our pitchers," said Southridge head coach Joe Monahan, whose team finished third in the Metro League. "That's key because that gives them confidence and you don't need quite as many runs as you think."
Southridge turned two double plays in the game and threw one baserunner out on a stolen base attempt at second base, while Stidham scattered nine hits and finished with five strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter in a 105-pitch complete-game effort.
"I told him at the beginning of the year that you're a sophomore but you need to be a senior by May and that's what he's been," said Monahan. "He's had a great ERA all year and he's improved every week, and just got better today."
Helping make it easier was Southridge's quick start to the game, with Zanon leading off with a triple down the right field line and Stephan Wendt following with a ground-rule double that one-hopped the left field fence. After Chandler Whitney reached on a fielding error at third base by Josh Berman, who charged the spinning roller but couldn't squeeze it in his glove, Tanner Green followed with a booming double to the left-center fence.
All this against North Medford's No. 2 starter Crofton, who had a 20-inning scoreless streak snapped last Wednesday and entered with a 1.88 ERA. He induced a double play to help limit the damage but Southridge still scored three times in the first.
"The way Jacob Zanon came out and smacked that ball in that first at-bat, it was just contagious," said Monahan. "To get those three runs and add a couple more in the second inning to take a 5-0 lead really allowed our pitcher, whose been great all year, to settle in and know that he has some run support. We got a lot of runs today with two outs, it was impressive."
Whitney's two-out, two-run single made it 5-0 and forced Wolfe to go to Christian Gillis in relief of Crofton just before a 15-minute rain delay. Gillis did well to slow the Skyhawks once play resumed, holding them scoreless until another four-run barrage in the fifth inning — with all runs coming after two outs had been secured.
Stidham supplied an RBI single after a leadoff walk to Reza Aleaziz, then another walk to No. 9 hitter Alex Beekman brought Gillis' day to a close. Brown was greeted by an RBI single from Zanon and two-run double by Wendt before getting the final out.
Through it all, Southridge never wavered against the long odds of a second straight road victory to open the playoffs.
"It's been quite the journey and the journey has a few chapters to go, at least one more for sure and we're hoping there's three more here," said Monahan. "They've been focused the last couple weeks and ready to roll."
Wolfe said the same about his team.
"The game sometimes isn't always fair but we didn't give it away, they earned it," said the 19th-year head coach. "I tip my hat to them, they definitely earned that because we played well and hit the ball. They jumped ahead and kept banging, but our kids did not quit one ounce."
"All you can ask for as a coach is to get 100 percent from your kids in energy and effort and focus and they gave me 110," added Wolfe. "They gave me everything they had so I can't walk out of here too disappointed. I'm disappointed for them because they deserve more, but life's not fair and this is another life lesson that we have to learn. I can't be anything but proud of them."
Pearson finished 3-for-3 with one run and one RBI and Hayden Evans was 2-for-3 for North Medford.
Zanon was 3-for-4 with three runs and one RBI, Wendt 2-for-5 with one run and three RBIs and Stidham 3-for-4 with two runs and one RBI for Southridge.
Southridge 320 040 0 — 9 12 1
North Medford 000 021 0 — 3 9 1
Stidham and Green; Crofton, Gillis (2), Brown (5), B. Pearson (7) and Zavala. W — Stidham. L — Crofton (5-3). 2B — S: Wendt 2, Green, Knudsen; NM: Zavala, Crofton. 3B — S: Zanon; NM: B. Pearson.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry