North Medford senior pitcher Alexis Barkwell pitched a three-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts and the Black Tornado scored in the third inning to edge cross-town rival South Medford, 1-0, in Southern Oregon Hybrid softball action at South Medford High on Tuesday.
Tra Kucera came home after a Maddie Gates single and a Panther error with two outs in the top of the third.
Barkwell, who allowed one walk, battled in a pitcher's duel with South Medford freshman lefty Pat Moore, who allowed one hit and two walks with 13 strikeouts.
"You had two pitchers who just dominated the game," North head coach Mike Mayben said.
Barkwell faced a bases-loaded situation with no outs in the sixth, but made it out unscathed. Shortstop Joci Ellis executed a difficult leaping catch for the last out of the inning.
The Panthers (7-6, 2-2 SOH) were picked to finish last in the SOH coaches' preseason poll, but swept Roseburg last weekend before giving the defending Class 6A state champion Black Tornado (12-1, 3-0) a run for its money.
North beat South, 11-1, in a nonleague meeting on April 9.
"I can't fault people for thinking that, just from what they've seen in the past," South head coach Miranda Gillaspie-Smith said of the poll. "But coming out we set some goals, and we set some goals heading into league. No matter what anybody says ... we have to know within ourselves that we have the ability to compete with anybody. We said that it's gonna be a ballgame every single day, and maybe other people don't believe that, but we believe it's 100 percent true and we proved that today."
The script may have been completely flipped had it not been for North's defensive prowess in the heart-racing sixth. South ended the top of the inning swiftly with a double play executed by outfielder Marissa Tarazon, who caught Keisha Williams' hit to right and then threw to first base to double off Grace Jovanovic.
Cue the bottom of the inning: Tarazon singled, Sarah DeVaughn recorded a bunt single and Pat Moore was walked on a 3-2 count to load the bases.
Mayben then talked to his team.
"(He said) just clear your head, keep the game simple, don't overthink it," Barkwell said. "We were all on the same page with that."
Indeed they were.
Barkwell struck out Brittany Miller, Rachael Moore flew out on the first pitch and then Tia Garrett popped up toward Ellis, who jumped up to make the grab.
"She knew to be deeper and she positioned herself in the right place and had enough hang time from basketball to get it," Mayben said.
The game ended simply enough, with a groundout, strikeout and groundout in the bottom of the seventh.
Mayben was pleased with his team's poise.
"When things get really difficult they don't panic," he said.
The 14-year-old, 95-pound Pat Moore showed similar toughness in the fourth, recording a key strikeout with runners on second and third base with two outs.
"It starts in the circle and it starts with defense," Gillaspie-Smith said. "Our big thing is we need to score some runs."
The Black Tornado got on the scoreboard in the third after Kucera reached on one of South's four errors in the game. Pat Moore then fanned Megan Cowden and Ellis grounded out. Enter Gates, whose hit into right field was eventually collected and thrown to the Panthers' first baseman as Kucera began her journey home from first base. Kucera scored after the toss to South's catcher got past her.
"It was just enough to get a run home," Gates said. "That's what we needed."
Barkwell walked away with plenty of respect for the Panthers.
"They don't give up," she said. "They don't take their strikes. They fight for it and they swing. They have gotten a lot better and they've improved a lot since the last time we saw them. You have to give them credit — they are a solid team."
North Medford 001 000 0 — 1 1 0
South Medford 000 000 0 — 0 3 4
Barkwell and Ramsay; P. Moore and Garrett. W — Barkwell (10-1). L — P. Moore (7-5).
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt