Defending state champion North Medford's path to the Class 6A state softball semifinals has been a much different journey than the previous year.
In 2012, the Black Tornado had to prevail in a pair of extra-inning contests just to reach the semifinals on the way to the school's sixth state championship.
This season an experienced, efficient North Medford team defeated its first two playoff opponents by a combined score of 17-0.
In Friday's quarterfinals, the Black Tornado received the third straight postseason shutout pitching performance from Maryssa Becker and routed Central Catholic of Portland, 10-0, in six innings at North Medford High.
The top-ranked Black Tornado (27-2) will travel to Portland to play Lincoln, a 4-3 quarterfinal winner against McNary, in Tuesday's semifinals.
The University of Louisville-bound Becker was in total command against the Rams. The senior pitcher struck out 12, walked one and allowed four hits.
"I felt in a groove today," said Becker. "I threw a variety of pitches to each batter. It definitely gives me some confidence when the offense is working well. It allows me to relax and settle into the game."
North Medford coach Mike Mayben concurred that Becker had her good stuff as evidenced by striking out seven Rams in the first three innings.
"She was dominant," said Mayben. "She got ahead of the hitters. Maryssa is excellent hitting her spots."
While Becker coolly dealt with any threat Central Catholic (21-8) mounted — which wasn't many — opposing pitcher Katie Barron struggled with her location. The junior hurler walked four, hit three and had four costly wild pitches.
"We knew (Barron) threw hard," said Mayben, "but today she had some control issues."
Once the Black Tornado staked Becker to a five-run lead after three innings, it was hard to imagine the Rams mounting a comeback.
North used a walk, a hit batter, a single and an error to take a 3-0 lead in the second inning.
Katie Ramsay opened the rally with a walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. Katie Williamson was hit by pitch and replaced by courtesy runner Jaycie Dickson. Alexis Barkwell's sacrifice bunt moved runners up to second and third, then Ramsay scored the game's initial run on a wild pitch.
Keisha Williams followed with an RBI single up the middle and eventually scored the third run of the frame on an error by shortstop Kelsey Hansen.
In the third, Becker cracked a one-out single and courtesy runner Sarah Thomas moved to second on an infield single by Ramsay. Williamson was hit again by Barron to load the bases and Thomas scored on a wild pitch. Barkwell's loop single over Hansen's head scored courtesy runner Dickson.
Grace Jovanovic provided North's biggest hit with a bases-loaded triple in the fifth inning. The left-handed Jovanovic sliced a 2-1 pitch down the opposite line and past left fielder Kylee Humphreys.
The Black Tornado ended the game on the 10-run mercy rule in the next inning when Joci Ellis opened with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored after second baseman Jessie Nagae could not field a slow grounder by Ramsay.
The Rams' most dangerous scoring opportunity came in the sixth when a walk, an error and single loaded the bases with one out. But Becker responded with a strikeout and an infield pop-up to second baseman Maddie Gates.
The only other Central Catholic runner to reach scoring position was Ashley Doyle, who doubled to open the fourth inning. Doyle was stranded on second after a groundout and a pair of strikeouts.
"We showed some good discipline at the plate," said Mayben. "The big thing for us was key hits to score runs and quality baserunning. It's good to be playing our best softball at this point."
Central Catholic 000 000 — 0 4 4
North Medford 032 131 — 10 5 2
Barron and Duronslet; Becker and Williamson. W — Becker (17-1). L — Barron. 2B — CC: Doyle. 3B — NM: Jovanovic.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org