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North picks off West Linn, advances to quarterfinals

Good pitching. Good defense.Aggressive baserunning.

That is the simple-yet-magic potion that has done wonders for the North Medford High softball team all season.

Wednesday at Fagone Field, the Black Tornado stuck to its trusted formula to make West Linn do a disappearing act in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

North's 7-0 victory landed a spot in the quarterfinals, for which the Tornado will travel to either Sprague of Salem or North Eugene on Friday. Sprague and North Eugene had their game in Salem rained out on Wednesday, and it will be made up at 4 p.m. today.

A five-run bottom of the third inning for North Medford (23-5 overall) effectively buried the Lions, who finish 16-9 and were the Three Rivers League's No. 2 seed.

The fifth-ranked Tornado's eruption didn't feature any big bangs but rather a medley of well-placed hits, smart baserunning and West Linn mistakes. In all, North, the Southern Oregon Conference champion, used four hits, three Lion errors, one walk and one passed ball to hang five runs on West Linn pitcher Crystal Rea.

The biggest play of the inning may well have been the one on which the first run scored.

With pinch-runner Kendra Strahm at third base and Laura Tarkon at second, Chrystal Brown swung and missed for a third strike, but the ball got away from Lions catcher Lynette Hieber. Strahm raced home, Tarkon cruised to third and Brown alertly dashed all the way to second.

Instead of one down, one run was in with still no outs.

Deni Rowley's bunt single scored Tarkon, and Brown cruised home when Beth Morrill's flyout to center fielder JC Cheveallier was thrown wildly up the third-base line. Rowley slid safely across home plate on Brandi Paxton's squeeze bunt, and Corey Whitaker's single to left field - the only base hit to travel out of the infield in the inning - plated Paxton for the fifth run.

"We're always trying to put pressure on the defense, but you have to put the bat on the ball to be able to do that, and today we were able to do that," said Tornado coach Larry Binney.

"Because we forced the action, it probably put a little pressure on them, and they threw the ball away a couple of times. Things kind of snowballed on them that one inning."

Aggression on the basepaths has long been Binney's forte, and catcher Britney Hillyer said he's still a wizard while coaching from the third-base box.

"As soon as we get somebody on, Larry pretty much takes over," said Hillyer, a four-year letterwinner who is one of four Tornado seniors.

The five runs were plenty in support of North ace Keri Sevano, who upped her record to 17-1 and ran her win streak to 12 straight by not allowing a hit in five innings of work. West Linn's only baserunner against Sevano was Hieber on a fifth-inning walk, and pinch-runner Alysia Whitcomb was promptly picked off by Hillyer after advancing to second base on a groundout.

Krystal Young pitched the last two innings for North, permitting only Katie Banning's base hit up the middle in the sixth. Banning, too, was a Hillyer victim, getting picked off first base for the inning's third out.

"If they get on base, that's my main goal," said Hillyer, a first-team all-SOC catcher for the third straight year this spring. "I wanna get them off."

In facing the minimum number of Lion batters, Sevano and Young combined to strike out five and - most impressively - allow only Banning's base hit to reach the outfield.

Tornado infielders Tarkon at first base, Morrill at second, Darcy Cordell at shortstop and Whitaker at third fielded 12 combined chances flawlessly. Hillyer chipped in with one putout, her two pick-offs and, as usual, by calling North's pitches.

"You play how you practice," said Whitaker, a junior who was one of five first-team all-SOC selections for the Tornado this season. "We practice hard. And when you play hard, you don't make many mistakes when you're tough, like we are."

North padded its lead with one run each in the fourth and fifth.

Tarkon drew a one-out walk, found her way to third and scored on Rowley's infield single to first in the fourth.

In the fifth, Whitaker led off and advanced to second when her fly ball was dropped by backpedaling West Linn left fielder Kristy Benda. Pinch-runner Megan Lamson stole third, then scored on Cordell's sharp single to left-center field.

Rea pitched all the way for the Lions, striking out two, walking two and surrendering just one earned run. The Tornado did touch her for eight singles, but only three of the hits traveled to the outfield.

Still, Binney was pleased to see the increased offensive production after Monday and Tuesday's struggles. Sunset ace Michelle Hext held North scoreless for 12 innings before the Tornado broke through with two runs in its 13th inning against her to rescue a 2-1 first-round victory.

"Believe it or not, playing 13 innings against Hext kind of helped us hit the ball today," said Binney, who is seeking a fourth state championship to close his 20-year tenure. "Rea throws the ball hard too, but not quite as hard. So we were able to put the bat on the ball because we had live BP for 13 innings. It just kind of worked out that way."

West Linn head coach Dan Jones said it was North's team speed and tenacity on the bases that proved deadly for the Lions.

"We haven't faced a team with that much speed all year, all the way up and down the lineup," said Jones, in his second year in charge at West Linn. "So we kind of fell asleep a little bit there in the third inning.

"You've gotta give them all the credit. They pushed the pressure. That's their game."

West Linn ......................................... 000 000 0 - 0 — 4ANorth Medford ................................. 005 110 x - 7 8 0

Rea and Hieber; Sevano, Young (6) and Hillyer. W - Sevano (17-1). L - Rea.

Reach reporter Tim Pyle at 776-4483 or e-mail