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...
On paper, it didn't appear to be much of a contest.
Two-time defending Class 6A softball state champion North Medford, fresh off its unbeaten Southern Oregon Hybrid campaign and with a 24-2 record, was to face visiting Beaverton, the lowest seed in the 32-team bracket with a 10-16 record, in the first round of the playoffs Monday.
As might be expected, the Black Tornado took care of business, 6-0, by taking care of things that mattered to it.
"Our word this week was 'poise,'" said senior third baseman Megan Cowden, a transfer from Eagle Point who found the playoff win, something she hadn't experienced previously, "refreshing."
"We just kept our poise and kept ourselves in it," she said. "We had our confidence up. We come in and know they're No. 32 in the state, but that doesn't mean anything to us. We just come in and play our game and play as good as we can play."
They'll get another chance on Wednesday when North hosts Jesuit, a 6-4 winner over Sprague Monday.
Beaverton made some fine defensive plays, and pitcher Savannah Dickson kept the Tornado hitters guessing from time to time, prompting North coach Mike Mayben to rate the Beavers better than their lowly power ranking.
But one thing Beaverton couldn't do was get to Tornado senior pitcher Alexis Barkwell. She allowed four hits — one in each of the final four innings — struck out 15 and didn't walk a batter.
So dominant was Barkwell, the game essentially seemed to be over when North collected three hits and scored the game's first three runs in the second inning.
She struck out eight of the first nine batters, the exception being a soft blooper that was caught by shortstop Joci Ellis in the second.
"She was just on top of things today," said Mayben. "She was spinning the ball well, putting it in spots where (catcher) Katie's (Ramsay) calling it, so she's hitting her spots really well and competing in the circle."
Getting an early lead didn't hurt.
Keisha Williams opened the second with a single and promptly scored on a hard double to the left-center field gap by Ramsay.
Olivia Lethlean ran for Ramsay, advancing to third on a fielder's choice and scoring when Maddie Gates' grounder to second was mishandled.
A walk and an Ellis single loaded the bases, and Cowden brought home Gates when Dickson erred on a comebacker to make it 3-0.
"Working ahead, the more ahead you are the easier it is on you and your teammates," said Barkwell, who is 22-2. "They're more at ease. And Katie called a great game, so that helps a lot."
The Tornado, which didn't commit an error in winning its 11th straight state playoff contest, didn't have room for complacency because there were items Mayben wanted addressed.
"We had some specific things we wanted to do better going into today's game," he said, noting that the team's base running and defense needed tightening. "And we did that. The things we focused on throughout the last four practices, we did better, and that was important to us."
Dickson held the Tornado scoreless from the third through fifth innings, allowing two hits, but North struck again in the sixth.
Ellis rapped an infield single that scored Tralene Kucera, who was hit by a pitch. Grace Jovanovic then reached out and tagged a two-run single to score Janell Rodgers and Ellis. Rogers was running for Gabby Rosales, who poked a pinch-hit single.
Ellis was 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI, and Barkwell was 2-for-4, including a long double over the left fielder's head in the fifth.
"Our kids, their motivation now is to look at (their next opponent) and think about what we can improve upon in practice and be prepared for that," said Mayben.
Beaverton 000 000 0 — 0 4 5
North Medford 030 003 0 — 6 10 0
Dickson and Gassner, Brockmann (5); Barkwell and Ramsay. W — Barkwell (22-2). L — Dickson. 2B — B: Matsumoto; NM: Ramsay, Barkwell.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org