It doesn’t happen often, but the first play of Tuesday’s matchup between crosstown rivals North Medford and South Medford set the tone for the entire game in Southwest Conference softball action at South Medford High.
Hoping to get off to a good start against one of the state’s premier pitchers in South Medford senior Pat Moore, the Black Tornado couldn’t have asked for better Tuesday.
On a 1-and-1 count, North Medford senior leadoff batter Olivia Lethlean dropped down a perfect bunt in front of Moore and raced toward first base. The left-handed Moore pounced on the ball but had to spin around to position herself for a throw and her relay to nab the speedy Lethlean sailed out of the reach of first baseman Jewel Burgoyne-Russell and down toward the right field corner fencing.
Lethlean hardly broke stride from there, touching every base in the blink of an eye for a stunning 1-0 North Medford lead on the four-base error.
“I’m pretty sure she’s the fastest kid in our conference, if not maybe the state,” said Black Tornado head coach Mike Mayben of Lethlean. “She’s really fast.”
The sudden turn of events was embraced wholeheartedly in the Black Tornado dugout, while you could see the Panther shoulders drop a little in frustration. From there, it was all North Medford as the visitors went on to pound 15 hits and secure a 16-0, five-inning victory to secure the tiebreaker in the three-game series.
“With Pat I’m always just trying to get on base,” said Lethlean, who finished 2-for-5 with three runs and two RBIs. “I was looking for the bunt, saw that it went by (first base) and I knew that Mike was going to have to stop me. I just kept on going — I almost tripped rounding second — and it was definitely a momentum changer. The girls started getting pumped and I think that carried on to our defense.”
North Medford (22-1, 15-1 SWC) managed to put two runs up in the first inning, the latter on an RBI groundout by Rylan Austin after Taelor Mayben had singled following Lethlean.
“Anytime you play a kid like Pat, who is as good of a pitcher as she is, and you can come out and get two runs in the first inning — and one run with the first batter — the confidence level of the kids going to the plate increases dramatically,” said coach Mayben.
That seemed to ring true thereafter on a day when Moore was obviously not at her best as she continues to struggle with a strained muscle in her left leg. Moore struck out six and walked three to go with 10 hits allowed in four innings before giving way to Burgoyne-Russell in the fifth inning. It also didn’t help that the Panthers (13-8, 10-6) committed seven errors.
“She’s thrown a lot of innings and it will probably be a benefit to us that we have the next week and half to get her some rest after tomorrow’s game against Willamette,” said South Medford head coach Miranda Gillaspie, whose team dropped to 13-8 overall and 10-6 in SWC play. “She just needs to rest. She plays a long summer season and winter season but she’ll get healthy, she’s working hard at. It’s kind of been a consistent issue she’s been working on for a few weeks now.”
North Medford scrambled for two more runs in the third after Taelor Mayben walked and eventually stole third base and scored when catcher Bailee Tatum’s throw went into left field. A few batters later, Mahal Miles supplied an RBI single to make it 4-0.
The Black Tornado officially blew the game open with five runs in the fourth inning on six hits, including a three-run triple by Miles, for a 9-0 cushion that was more than enough for Austin, who allowed one hit with four strikeouts and two walks in four innings.
“We never let up, for sure,” said Lethlean. “Once we start going and we’re just on top of our game, no one can stop us because we have so many good girls.”
In the final frame, North Medford batted through the lineup to score seven runs on six hits and three errors — two on dropped fly balls after Gillaspie shuffled the lineup a bit in the fifth.
“Obviously it was not the day that we anticipated or looked for but we’ve just got to get mentally focused, make adjustments and get ready to go the next time,” said Gillaspie. “Really in the big scheme of things, playoffs is what matters and we’re still in position to get our No. 2 spot (in the SWC) if we finish out and play the way we should.”
For North Medford, Miles finished 2-for-3 with four RBIs, while Ashley Ripplinger supplied a three-run triple in the fifth inning, Taelor Mayben was 2-for-3 with four runs and one RBI and Lauren Barry 2-for-4 with two runs. Alex Barry was 2-for-3 with two runs and one RBI and Austin 2-for-4 with one run and one RBI.
Shayna Woods and Cassie Flemming each had singles to pace South Medford, which used a walk to centerfielder Jaden Alexander and a sacrifice bunt by Lanie Rodriguez where all players were safe on a fielder’s choice to apply some pressure in the second inning. After that, however, Austin surrounded a strikeout with a pair of groundouts to get out of the jam.
Austin, Williams (5) and Salvador, Smalley (5); Moore, Burgoyne-Russell (5) and Tatum. W — Austin (17-1). L — Moore (13-8). 2B — NM: Williams. 3B — NM: Lethlean, Miles, Ripplinger.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry