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With senior ace Maryssa Becker holding up her end of the bargain, it seemed only a matter of time Tuesday before North Medford's softball team finally broke through against host Lincoln during a Class 6A state semifinal played at Jesuit High in Portland.
The defending 6A champion Black Tornado had runners on base in every inning and finally caught a break with a two-out, two-run surge in the fifth inning to supply the difference in a 2-0 game that featured a pair of Division I-bound pitchers.
Becker, who has signed with Louisville, struck out 13 and allowed only one hit with three walks to put her team in the state championship game for the third time in five years. North Medford went on to win state titles in the other two (2009 and '12) appearances.
"We had a lot of opportunities," Black Tornado head coach Mike Mayben said. "I was just proud of the way the kids competed and the way Becker threw today. She just was really phenomenal today."
Such a sentiment is nothing new for Becker, who was last year's Oregon Gatorade player of the year and improved her record to 18-1 on Tuesday. She has pitched four consecutive shutouts since the state playoffs began on May 20 and entered the semifinal with a 0.54 ERA.
"These last two weeks, she's just been phenomenal at controlling the strike zone," said Mayben. "She's not trying to overpower anybody but just being smart by using her locations and using the movement to keep teams off balance. It's been a pretty phenomenal run to keep a fourth team from scoring in the playoffs."
North Medford expects to have its hands full in Saturday's final, slated for 1 p.m. at the Oregon State University Softball Complex in Corvallis. Glencoe (28-1), second only to the Tornado in the state's final power rankings, topped Southern Oregon Hybrid runner-up Roseburg 5-2 in Tuesday's other semifinal.
The teams met earlier this season during North Medford's Spring Break Invitational, with the Crimson Tide coming out on top 4-3 on March 25.
"That 4-3 score back in spring break, I don't think you're going to see that again because both pitchers had thrown a lot of games and a lot of innings in a row at that time," added Mayben. "I expect (Saturday) to be a pitcher's duel because now they'll be all rested and pitching in only one game."
Glencoe is paced by senior ace Katie Sutherland-Finch, who has signed to play at California and had a no-hitter going through 62/3 innings against Roseburg (22-7). Sutherland-Finch managed 13 strikeouts against two walks, one hit batter and a seventh-inning single by Ashley Martin.
"We've seen our share of DI pitchers, that's for sure," Mayben said of the rough road his team continues to take this season in the pitching-rich state.
On Tuesday, North Medford didn't have much trouble getting runners on base against the Auburn-bound Courtney Huston of Lincoln. Getting those runners across the plate, however, was another issue.
The Black Tornado lost out on scoring chances with a pair of hard liners in the first (Maddie Gates) and seventh (Michelle Draper) innings that resulted in double plays, and another line drive by junior Joci Ellis that ricocheted off Huston but was fielded by shortstop Morgan Portlock for an inning-ending out at first base.
"That would've been at least a run because that ball was hit as hard as any ball all day," Mayben said of Ellis' fourth-inning effort.
North Medford finally capitalized in the fifth when, with two outs, junior Katie Ramsay reached safely on a spinner toward third baseman Elena Schaefer that glanced off the glove of first baseman Jordan Coleman on the throw.
After senior Katie Williamson singled and courtesy runner Tralene Kucera was inserted, junior Alexis Barkwell drew one of Huston's nine walks on the day to seemingly load the bases. On ball four, however, Lincoln catcher Lexi Washington threw down to third base and the unexpected ball went into left field to allow Ramsay to score on the error. Junior Keisha Williams followed with an RBI single up the middle that was stopped behind the bag on a nice diving effort by second baseman Morgan Ashton to keep more runs from scoring.
The 2-0 lead proved more than enough for Becker, who only found trouble in the fourth inning after a leadoff walk to Ashton and single by Jenna Stanford that included an error but also saw Stanford thrown out at second base. With one out and a runner at third base, Becker struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
"In games like that with two good pitchers going," said Mayben, "you're just waiting for the first team to make the mistake. We had that in the fourth inning but then Becker comes in and just shuts the door, and then we were able to capitalize in the next inning."
Huston allowed six hits and one earned run with eight strikeouts but walked nine and routinely pitched deep into the count. She finished with 169 pitches in the complete-game effort, compared to 103 for Becker, thanks to a patient approach at the plate and numerous foul balls by the Tornado.
North Medford 000 020 0 — 2 6 1
Lincoln 000 000 0 — 0 1 2
Becker and Williamson; Huston and Washington. W — Becker (18-1). L — Huston (21-2). 2B — NM: Becker, Jovanovic.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry