The top-seeded North Medford softball team can move one step closer to a third straight Class 6A state championship with a victory over No. 5 Westview in the semifinals today.
The contest is set for 4 p.m. at North Medford High.
In other softball action, South Medford travels to play South Salem at 5 p.m.
The state title contest is Saturday at the Oregon State University Softball Complex in Corvallis.
The two-time defending state champion Black Tornado (27-2) has only lost to South Salem this year, falling 3-0 on March 24 and 4-3 on May 22.
Metro League champion Westview (22-8) started the year 4-6, but has won 14 straight.
The Wildcats are led by sophomore ace Abby Greer, who pitched a two-hitter with 12 strikeouts and two walks in a 1-0 quarterfinal triumph over Barlow last Friday. She went 12-1 in league play en route to earning pitcher of the year honors.
Westview allowed the fewest runs per game in conference play.
"Abby can keep us in any game," said Westview's Ronda McKenzie, who was the Metro League coach of the year.
Added North head coach Mike Mayben: "We'll have to be disciplined at the plate. Just being prepared mentally is important."
The Wildcats did not play any Southern Oregon Hybrid opponents this season. The squad often plays in the North Medford Spring Break Invitational, but competed in California this year instead.
"North Medford always has a great team," McKenzie said. "They are always well-coached and have great athletes."
North has hit well in the postseason, getting its biggest contributions from Grace Jovanovic, Joci Ellis, Alexis Barkwell, Janelle Rodgers and Katie Ramsay.
The Black Tornado had 10 hits in a 6-0 win over Beaverton in the first round, 14 in an 11-1 victory over Jesuit in the second round and seven against Grants Pass in a 3-2 quarterfinal triumph.
"We have improved there on what we did during the regular season," Mayben said. "The pitching in our conference was extremely good."
Senior Alexis Barkwell (24-2) will start for North, which has only given up 41 runs this season. South Salem (20) has allowed the fewest among 6A squads.
"She'll go out and throw the best game she can, hit her spots and communicate with (catcher) Katie Ramsay and have a great game plan," Mayben said.
South Medford at South Salem
South Medford softball coach Miranda Gillaspie-Smith and her squad have been getting more praise than usual around the high school.
Considering the Panthers' recent postseason run, the congratulations and well-wishes are understandable.
"Everyone has been very supportive," said Gillaspie-Smith, who also teaches at South. "Kids at school, staff and people I didn't even think followed the athletic world and people around the valley have been great. It's a good feeling."
Improbable may not be a strong enough word to describe what South has done to get all those compliments.
The 30th-seeded Panthers (13-13) travel to play No. 2 South Salem (27-1) in the 6A state semifinals at 5 p.m. today. Their journey to the Final Four has been a remarkable one: They were picked to finish last in the Southern Oregon Hybrid coaches preseason poll and ended up fourth out of five teams after losing a pair of games to last-place Crater (5-21). That forced them into the 6A play-in round.
South responded by winning five straight. It beat Grant, 2-1, in the play-in, defeated Henley in a playoff tune-up (the Hornets are in the 4A semifinals), shocked No. 3 Tualatin, 5-1, in the first round, edged No. 19 Roseburg, 5-4, in the second round and rallied to down No. 6 Glencoe, 7-6, in the quarterfinals.
The Panthers — who had never before reached the quarterfinals — erupted for five runs in the 11th inning of their win over Tualatin and trailed 6-1 against Glencoe.
Things figure to get even more challenging for South today.
South Salem ace Katie Donovan, who has committed to Utah, will be awaiting them. In playoff victories over South Eugene, Newberg and Southridge, the senior has thrown 17 shutout innings, allowed five hits and struck out 24.
She smacked a three-run triple and three-run homer against the Axemen.
The Central Valley Conference champions have only given up 20 runs all year and own 19 shutouts. No one has scored a run on the Saxons in the postseason.
Their only loss was to West Salem, 3-1, on April 29.
"We are definitely going to have to come with our best game," Gillaspie-Smith said. "We've got to get our bats going, which they have come alive the last few games."
Freshman left-hander Pat Moore (13-12) will start for the Panthers.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt