Ashland’s volleyball program had quite a run brewing from 2005-09, securing top-four state trophies in all five seasons.
SALEM — At the end of the South Medford softball team's unlikely run through the postseason stood Katie Donovan.
The South Salem senior pitcher, who has committed to Utah, pitched a no-hit shutout to lift the second-seeded Saxons to a 6-0 victory over the No. 30 Panthers in the Class 6A state semifinals Tuesday at South Salem High.
"You go into it thinking anything can happen," South Medford head coach Miranda Gillaspie-Smith said. "Any time you go up against one of the top teams like that you've got to leave it all on field. The girls competed and I'm 100 percent proud of them."
South Salem (28-1) will play two-time defending state champion North Medford (28-2) Saturday at the OSU Softball Complex in Corvallis for the 6A state championship. The Saxons will be appearing in the finals for the third time in four years.
The Panthers (13-14) entered the contest on a five-game winning streak, and their playoff résumé included victories over No. 3-seeded Tualatin, No. 6 Glencoe and No. 19 Roseburg.
Enter Donovan, who shut out her fourth playoff opponent in as many opportunities by striking out seven batters against two walks.
Freshman left-hander Pat Moore challenged the Saxons early, but they got eight hits against her, struck out four times and walked four times.
Moore put the pressure on South Salem on offense to start the game, drawing a leadoff walk and moving to second on a bunt by Brittany Miller. Kelly Burdick then made a sensational diving catch on a Rachael Moore flyout and threw the ball to Liz Perez-Quintero for an inning-ending double play.
"It's not how I usually like to start things out, but after that I just really had to make sure that I was focused and I can rely on my defense," Donovan said. "When I do get in a tight spot I know that they can come through for me."
South Salem — which recorded its 20th shutout of the season and 12th straight win — lost in its prior two state title game appearances.
"Our team is like our family," said junior Julia Clark, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. "We'd do anything for each other.
"We really want to come out and do what we can and do our job to win that game for them. It means a lot for coach and the seniors."
The Saxons beat the Black Tornado 3-0 and 4-3 in their two meetings this season.
"As the kids say redemption, what is it they say, redemption 2K14?" South Salem coach Scott McCormick said. "It feels good. It feels like we should be there."
"The latter part of the season, over the last three and a half weeks, we've hit the ball well, we've become more of a team," he added. "I think the defining moment for us so far was when we defeated North Medford with Julia pitching and Katie sitting on the bench not pitching or hitting. All of a sudden the kids believed, hey, we can play with anybody. We're not just Katie. I think it was an epiphany for them."
After having runners in scoring position each of the first two innings without being able to push a runner across, Perez-Quintero walked to load the bases in the third and Christina Rookstool hit an infield single to score Naomi Wasser. On the next pitch, which was wild, Katie Hammitt scored for a 2-0 lead.
In the fourth inning Clark hit an RBI single and Donovan followed that with a two-run double for a 5-0 lead, and the Saxons could finally breathe.
"We played tough and had a heck of a two weeks," Gillaspie-Smith said. "We're still focused on the positives. This is huge building point for the program."
South Medford 000 000 0 — 0 0 2
South Salem 002 301 x — 6 8 1
P. Moore and Garrett; Donovan and Feiring. W — Donovan. L — P. Moore (13-13). 2B — SS: Bohnstedt.