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Highlanders end Tornado's reign

Freshman pitcher checks defending state champs on three hits in 3-0 victory

It was hard to tell which hurt more, Jenny Close's throbbing fingers or that empty feeling in the pit of her stomach.

When you dislocate fingers and invest months of your teenage years hoping for a storybook ending, anything less is hard to swallow.

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Tornado's Jenny Close laments loss. — —

Two-time defending Class 4A state champion North Medford won't get a shot at No. — Saturday. North Eugene handed the Black Tornado its first playoff loss since 1996, 3-0, in Wednesday afternoon's semifinal at Fagone Field.

I don't know if we were mentally prepared for this game or if it was just one of those things, said Close. Maybe it just wasn't to be, but they played a great game.

Close's fingers told the story. Her left pinky and ring fingers were taped together after she dislocated a finger stealing second base in the second inning.

game's end the Tornado shared her pain as North Medford (28-2) suffered its first post-season setback since losing to Hood River in the 1996 championship game by the same score.

It was almost like we were playing not to lose, Close said. You've got to be aggressive and we were a little tentative.

The victory vaulted North Eugene (21-8) into its first championship game since 1979, when the Highlanders finished second to Aloha. Central Catholic of Portland defeated Churchill of Eugene, 3-0, in the other semifinal.

North Eugene coach Mike Jodoin and North Medford coach Larry Binney are longtime coaching rivals and friends. But in three previous playoff meetings, Binney had the upper hand.

I've been at this longer than Larry, but he's taught me a lot, Jodoin said. I used to be a station-to-station coach. He's taught me to be aggressive and have confidence in my girls, one-through-nine.

Jodoin's confidence was duly rewarded.

North Eugene freshman pitcher Amy Harris had the Tornado feeding out of her hand, rarely giving up more than a pop up or soft line drive.

I think we went up there excited and wanting to hit the ball, said senior Steph Adams. Being too eager and too excited isn't good all the time.

The young right-hander began the season backing up her sister Jennifer, a junior. — mid-season the youngster had gained the No. — spot and has been dominating in four playoff victories. She lost a 1-0 decision to the Tornado back on March 31, but turned the tables with a wicked riseball.

They're like a superior-hitting team so I couldn't throw anything down the middle, Harris said. I had to keep the ball low or get 'em with the riseball. They started chasing some riseballs and I'd have to sneak them in there.

I knew if we got one run that would suffice and we could hold them.

North Medford's Jenny Close dives into second base, dislocating a finger on her left hand in the second inning as North Eugene's Jackie Rojas covers. - By GREG STILES