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CORVALLIS — North Medford's softball program didn't get to be one of the state's best by surrendering when circumstances became dire.
And boy, did they seem dire through 21/2 innings of the Class 6A state championship game against South Salem and ace Katie Donovan, the state pitcher of the year, Saturday at the Oregon State softball complex.
North trailed 4-0 at that point against a team that hadn't allowed a run in four previous postseason games.
The Black Tornado, two-time defending champion, didn't climb all the way back, but it threw a scare into the Saxons before they could secure their first state title, 5-3.
"The good thing about our team is, we hold our composure," said North catcher Katie Ramsay, her team's co-player of the game with shortstop Joci Ellis. "We know we can get back, and we did that."
The Tornado gave up a run in the top of the sixth to fall behind 5-0, then scored twice in the bottom of the sixth and again in the seventh before Donovan struck out Alexis Barkwell to end it with the tying run at first base.
The victory was the third for South Salem over North in as many games this season, the top-seeded Tornado's only setbacks in a 28-3 campaign. North was trying to become the first Oregon big school to win three straight titles since Churchill did so in 1987.
The Saxons (29-1) lost to North in the 2012 title game, and this was their third trip to the finals in four seasons.
"To finally finish the game on that field and win it is an unbelievable feeling," said South Salem coach Scott McCormick.
On the one hand, McCormick expected a fight from the Tornado. In an early season game, the Tornado collected six hits off Utah signee Donovan.
That North had three runs on four hits in the last two innings didn't flabbergast him.
"To be honest, when you're up 5-0 with Katie pitching," said McCormick, "you're pretty much thinking you can go to the bank with that. Then all of a sudden it's, oh no, that ATM machine isn't working."
Donovan showed a knack for bearing down in the early innings, and she did so again late to prevent catastrophic damage.
The hard-throwing right-hander allowed eight hits, but none of the runs were earned, and she fanned 10 with only one walk.
Her counterpart, Barkwell, gave up 11 hits — two more than the Saxons had in each of the other two meetings — struck out three and walked two. Two of the runs she allowed were unearned.
South Salem scored twice in the first inning when Kelly Burdick, who was 3-for-4, led off with a single. She later scored on a single by Donovan, and the pitcher's pinch runner, Naomi Wasser, scored on a hard double to right by Katie Hammitt.
If that wasn't a big enough hole against a hurler with two no-hitters among her four playoff shutouts, it got worse two at-bats later.
Burdick started the frame with a single and went to second on a passed ball. Kennan Feiring singled to left, but when Tra Kucera fielded it and threw home, the ball got by Ramsay and caromed off Barkwell, allowing Burdick in.
Julia Clark then drove one to left-center that center fielder Keisha Williams chased down. However, it glanced off her mitt and was ruled a double, scoring Feiring to make it 4-0.
"It hit in my glove and fell out, so I thought I had it," said Williams.
North stirred things up several times, but each time, Donovan slammed the door.
"We had runners at second base quite a few times and Donovan just stuffed us," said North coach Mike Mayben.
In the second, Williams singled and reached second, but Donovan ended the inning by striking out Maddie Gates.
In the third, Ellis singled and reached second, but Megan Cowden went down swinging.
In the fourth, it was magnified. Grace Jovanovic singled and got around to third on a couple passed balls, but Donovan set down Barkwell, Williams and Ramsay on strikeouts.
"That's pretty impressive stuff," said Mayben. "I mean, she got after it."
With time running out, the Tornado kept plugging away.
"I thought we still had a chance," said Ellis, who was 3-for-4. "There's seven innings in a game. Get hits and get runs. We got scores on the board."
It began in the sixth, which Ellis led off with a sharp double over third base. She was erased moments later when she broke for third on a grounder to shortstop by Cowden. The Saxons' Elizabeth Perez Quintero fielded it and threw to third baseman Christina Rookstool for the tag and the first out of the inning.
Ellis got a good break and thought she had it.
Mayben didn't fault the effort.
"She made a read and went," he said. "What we tell the kids all year is, if you're going to be aggressive, then you can't hesitate. ... She made it a close play."
Cowden was out on another fielder's choice that allowed Jovanovic to reach first. Barkwell walked (and was pinch run for by Olivia Lethlean) and Williams reached on an error. Ramsay then looped a two-run single to center.
The run in the seventh came after one-out singles by Janelle Rodgers and Ellis, followed by two fielder's choices and an error that allowed Rodgers to score.
Donovan didn't let the uprising continue.
"All I asked the kids to do today was compete," said Mayben, "and they did that. Results are results. One team was going to win and one team was going to lose. It's a 50-50 proposition, and if that's all it's about, then you haven't come here for the right reasons."
Ramsay had an up-close look at the Saxons' offense and was impressed.
"They hit the ball really well today everywhere it was pitched," she said. "They went with pitches, they pulled pitches, they did a good job."
She said Barkwell "pitched a great game. They just had hits, and we made a couple mistakes that cost us."
Williams was one of a half-dozen seniors in their final games for the Tornado. The others were Barkwell, Ramsay, Ellis, Gates and Cowden. "It isn't the result we wanted," said Williams, "but if I had to go out with anybody else, it wouldn't have been the same. I've been playing with most of these girls my whole career. That's who I wanted to end it with."
SOUTH SALEM (29-1) NORTH MEDFORD (28-3)
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Burdick 2b 4 2 3 1 Ellis ss 4 0 3 0
Feiring c 4 1 1 0 Cowden 3b 4 0 0 0
Clark cf 4 0 2 1 Jovanovic rf 4 1 1 0
Donovan p 4 0 2 1 Barkwell p 3 0 0 0
Wasser pr 0 1 0 0 Lethlean pr 0 1 0 0
Hammitt lf 3 0 1 1 Williams cf 3 0 1 0
Quintero ss 4 1 1 0 Ramsay c 3 0 1 2
Rookstool 3b 3 0 1 0 Campbell pr 0 0 0 0
Bhnstdt 1b 2 0 0 0 Gates 2b 3 0 0 0
McGrath dp 2 0 0 0 Kykndall dp 3 0 1 0
Titus rf 0 0 0 0 Rodgers 1b 3 1 1 0
Kucera lf 0 0 0 0
Totals 30 5 11 4 Totals 30 3 8 2
South Salem 202 001 0 —5
North Medford 000 002 1 —3
E—Burdick, Quintero, Rookstool, Ramsay, Gates. LOB—South Salem 8, North Medford 7. 2B—Clark 2, Hammitt, Ellis. SB—Jovanovic. CS—Kuykendall.
IP H R ER BB SO
Donovan W, 28-1 7 8 3 0 1 10
Barkwell L, 25-3 7 11 5 3 2 3
WP—Barkwell. PB—Feiring 2, Ramsay. Umpires—Home, Mike Federspiel First, Jerry Bone Third, Pete Forgey. T—1:53.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com