Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
CORVALLIS — The jubilant mob moved from one corner of the softball diamond to another Saturday.
First, it found Cassie Campbell behind home plate seconds after she scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning to give North Medford the Class 6A state championship. No sooner did it swallow her up than its attention turned to third base.
Grace Jovanovic was still there, bouncing happily, clapping, a smile as big as the base she seemed anchored to. She'd lashed the game-winning hit to left field and could have stopped running once Campbell scored. But in her excitement, Jovanovic blazed all the way to third base before head coach Mike Mayben could put the brakes to her.
She didn't know her no-out line drive cleared Crimson Tide left fielder Hannah Rossman's glove and scooted to the fence.
"I had no idea," said the sophomore, who bats ninth in the lineup. "I was just running and hoping it was good."
The horde of Black Tornado players swarmed to Jovanovic like bees darting to a flower bed and wrapped her in a celebratory frenzy.
North Medford's third softball state championship in five years was not without angst, not without drama. But ultimately, it came, a 2-1 extra-inning triumph over Glencoe of Hillsboro at Oregon State University's softball complex that played out as tightly as most expected between the state's two top teams.
"It feels amazing," said junior first baseman Alexis Barkwell, who had a hand in Glencoe scoring the first run in the top of the seventh inning, then atoned in dramatic fashion with a long drive off the left-center field fence that deadlocked it in the do-or-die bottom half. "I am so blessed and our team is so amazing. We worked so hard and put in so much time, it's so exciting."
The title is the seventh overall and second straight for North Medford (29-2), which had suffered an early season, 4-3 loss to Glencoe.
The Crimson Tide, behind California pitching recruit Katie Sutherland-Finch, is ranked 11th in MaxPreps.com's national top 25. The setback was only its second against 28 wins.
It was a pitcher's duel in which hits and runs were at a premium — Glencoe didn't have any of the former against Black Tornado senior standout Maryssa Becker — and the slightest mistakes would loom large.
In fact, it appeared a miscue would doom North Medford in the final inning.
Despite the dominance of Louisville-bound Becker, who struck out 13, including the side in the third, sixth and eighth innings, Glencoe made the absolute most of its only base runner.
In the seventh, Becker plunked leadoff hitter Macy Besuyen on a 2-1 count. Morgan Brown followed with a sacrifice bunt to get Besuyen to second, and the freshman second baseman scampered to third moments later on a passed ball.
Courtney Clayton then hit a grounder down the first-base line that Barkwell fielded cleanly. Rather than hold Besuyen at third and tag out Clayton as she came up the line, the Black Tornado infielder turned and ran to first for the putout, then saw her throw home a fraction late to catch Besuyen.
Becker ended the inning by striking out Sutherland-Finch, but hitless Glencoe led 1-0.
Barkwell realized after the play what she should have done, said Mayben, "and will be better for it. "» But you know what, she comes back and makes up for it, so we're OK."
North Medford had produced only three hits through six innings against Sutherland-Finch.
But with three outs left to make something happen, junior Katie Ramsay lofted a bloop hit to the middle of the infield that no one handled, resulting in a single.
Senior Katie Williamson's sacrifice bunt moved Ramsay to second, bringing up Barkwell, who had a plan.
"Take away one pitch," said Barkwell. "Her rise ball was pretty effective, so I was determined not to get beat on it twice. I basically just kind of went with it and did what I could."
"It" was a waist-high fastball, snuggling the inside, the first pitch Barkwell saw. She turned ferociously into it and drove it deep, halfway up the short outfield fence, and Ramsay scored easily.
Barkwell stopped momentarily at second base, then, caught up in the moment, headed to third.
She thought it was a home run, and Glencoe relayed the ball in in time to get the Black Tornado runner for the second out.
The inning ended with an infield fly.
Barkwell got a hug from teammate Joci Ellis in the dugout, then Becker trotted to the mound and, effortlessly it seemed, set down three Crimson Tide batters.
"I was in kind of a groove today," said Becker (19-1). "Katie (Williamson, catcher) and I had been working all week on stuff and making sure that we were being smart with our pitches and being cognizant of where we were placing the ball every pitch."
If the defense was solid, she was confident the offense would do its part.
It did, with the help of a Glencoe misstep.
North Medford senior Michelle Draper led off the eighth with a comebacker to Sutherland-Finch, who fielded it but threw low to first baseman Maria Dendinger, who dropped the ball.
Campbell, a freshman, came on as a courtesy runner and made it to third, first on a passed ball, then a wild pitch as Jovanovic fought off pitches.
Jovanovic is one of the Black Tornado's better hitters, said Mayben, despite her place in the lineup.
"That was perfect timing there," said the coach. "She was in great position to drive in a run and just did a great job. She fouled a couple pitches off, saw the ball, squared it up, hit a line drive and that's all it took."
The left-handed Jovanovic just wanted to put something in play. Then Campbell made it to third with no outs.
"It was kind of scary," said Jovanovic. "I was really hoping for the hit."
She struck out her previous two at-bats against the hard-throwing Sutherland-Finch but filed away information.
"I got to know the umpire's zone," she said. "It was a little bit wider than I expected, so I got adjusted to that and just hit the ball. I got my timing down."
Her first thought upon contact: "Oh my gosh, I hope she (Campbell) scores."
Unlike Glencoe, North Medford had earlier opportunities to score.
In the second, Williamson and Barkwell opened with back-to-back singles, but a flyout and two of Sutherland-Finch's 10 strikeouts ended the threat.
In the sixth, Ellis led off with a sharp infield single that diving shortstop Clayton couldn't make a play on. But Ellis was caught stealing for only the second time this season by Glencoe catcher Kamryn Apling.
Maddie Gates then walked, but she was picked off base on a play in which Becker struck out.
Becker, last year's state player of the year, and Sutherland-Finch were named their teams' players of the game.
"It feels great, it feels awesome," said Becker of the championship. "I'm really excited right now, especially to have this last win with the people I've been playing with either for three months or 10 years. It's been an amazing experience, but I'm still a little sad this will be my last game with this team and these coaches."
North Medford 2, Glencoe 1
GLENCOE (28-2) NORTH MEDFORD (29-2)
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Besuyen 2b 2 1 0 0 Ellis ss 3 0 1 0
Brown cf 3 0 0 0 Gates 2b 2 0 0 0
Clayton ss 3 0 0 1 Becker p 2 0 0 0
Suth-Finch p 3 0 0 0 Thomas pr 0 0 0 0
Surratt rf 3 0 0 0 Ramsay 3b 3 1 1 0
Dendinger 1b 3 0 0 0 Williamson c 2 0 1 0
Messmer dp 2 0 0 0 Kucera pr 0 0 0 0
Stonier ph 1 0 0 0 Barkwell 1b 3 0 2 1
Eastman 3b 2 0 0 0 Williams cf 3 0 0 0
Apling c 2 0 0 0 Draper lf 3 0 0 0
Rossman lf 0 0 0 0 Campbell pr 0 1 0 0
Jovanovic rf 3 0 1 1
Totals 24 1 0 1 Totals 24 2 6 2
Glencoe 000 000 10 —1
North Medford 000 000 11 —2
E—Dendinger. DP—Glencoe 1. LOB—North Medford 4. 2B—Barkwell. HBP—Besuyen. SH—Williamson. CS—Ellis, Gates.
IP H R ER BB SO
Sutherland-Finch L,25-2 7 6 2 1 2 10
Becker W,19-1 8 0 1 0 0 13
Sutherland-Finch pitched to 2 batters in the 8th. WP—Sutherland-Finch. PB—Apling; Williamson. Umpires—Home, Mark Happeny First, Frank Schofield Third, Jack Scrivener. T—1:54.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com