Black Tornado earns Western Nationals crown
For the Black Tornado Fastpitch softball team, it was never a matter of talent, just about putting it all together.
This past spring high school season, the North Medford High girls couldn’t quite find the right groove and wound up tying for fourth in the Southwest Conference before a second-round exit in the Class 6A state playoffs.
With most of the same faces competing this summer, spearheaded by incoming senior Samara Miles and junior Gabbi Urban, it’s been a completely different story.
Black Tornado Fastpitch recently put an exclamation point on a stellar summer season, bouncing from an unbeaten run in the 16-and-under B state tournament to another unblemished effort in claiming the USA Softball 16A Western Nationals championship.
“Honestly I knew the talent was there, it was just a matter of them coming together and knowing that they can play at that caliber and playing together as a team,” said Black Tornado head coach Chris Campbell, whose team was 26-5 this summer after going 13-15 in the spring.
“They did a phenomenal job,” he added of an 8-0 run at the Western Nationals this past weekend. “I was extremely proud of them for the accomplishments they made, both personally and as a team. A lot of kids put in a lot of hard work this summer.”
Campbell called his team’s final tournament of the season a “milestone” achievement, due in large part to how it all came about at Lithia & Driveway Fields here in Medford.
“We came from behind in all four of our last four games, which is something we haven’t shown as a characteristic,” said the coach. “In the last season, once we got down we kind of just stayed down. This summer they figured it out that we can be down and as long as we do the little things right and do the things we need to do right, we can still come back and win ballgames.”
“It was a big milestone that they turned,” added Campbell, “that they knew as long as we do all the little things as a team, we’re pretty darn good.”
After dominating pool play in the 13-team event, the Black Tornado opened bracket play with an 8-1 win over the Northwest Vandals and then followed that with a 7-2 win over the Rebels.
The next game may have proven to be the most pivotal, with the Black Tornado rallying from a 2-1 deficit to win 8-2 over Panther Fastpitch of South Medford, which swept North during their three-game spring series.
The Black Tornado carried that momentum over to a 6-3 win against the NorCal Rage of Redding, California, that put the local girls into the championship final, where they again defeated NorCal, 6-2, after it rebounded from the losers bracket to reach the final.
Urban spurred the Black Tornado throughout the tourney but certainly in the championship game. The right-handed pitcher went the distance to post her seventh win of the tourney — sophomore-to-be Malia Baker earned the Tornado’s other win — and it was her three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning against the Rage that created a valuable cushion.
“Gabbi had a pretty complete total game for us,” said Campbell. “She was phenomenal.”
“It was a shot,” he added of the clutch homer. “The wind was blowing in and she flat got every bit of it.”
Urban wound up batting .367 with three home runs, including a grand slam and another three-run blast, to also help spark the offense.
Miles proved to be a near-impossible out during the Western Nationals, boasting a team-best .643 batting average that featured six doubles. This, of course, following her 14-for-16 showing at the state tournament that included 10 extra-base hits.
“Samara can hit a ball wherever it’s pitched,” said Campbell, “she just knows what she’s got to do when she gets up to the plate. She’s very focused and she’s looking for one pitch to drive but then if she gets down in a count, she’s very disciplined and will go with pitches and hit them where they’re pitched.
“She’s just one of those gifted hitters that has definitely put in the time and the effort,” he added. “She’s one of the first ones down there at practice to keep working on her skill and one of the last ones to leave if she’s not happy with how she did.”
It’s a work ethic that Campbell has marveled at for years.
“I remember seeing that kid when she was 4 years old with her dad in the hitting cages with her older sisters,” said Campbell of Miles. “I’d hate to guess how many cuts that kid has taken in her lifetime, but I would put it at 10,000 or more, honestly. It’s just great to see all that hard work that she’s done pay off.”
The Black Tornado also received leading efforts from a host of other players in one of the more complete efforts Campbell said he’s seen this summer.
Julia Thomas batted .461 with three doubles, Kaida DeHaven hit .400 and Araseli Guerrero launched her own home run to highlight the Black Tornado’s offensive production.
Defensively, center fielder Rhyan Hamlin was critical in running down balls hit to the gap with diving catches, while Guerrero was seemingly hustling to all fields to track down the softball from her shortstop position and catcher Sadie Hall gritted out every game behind the plate in extreme heat conditions.
“The defensive effort by everybody was fantastic,” said Campbell. “We were shutting down rallies by making great plays, it was just fun to watch.”
“When you’re playing out there in that kind of heat and that kind of temperature, to be able to go out there and perform the way they all did was incredible,” he added. “All of the girls really stepped up and raised it another level or two as far as their effort and energy, and those kinds of things all help.”
It definitely made things a little more manageable for Urban.
“As a pitcher, it’s a lot easier to get in the circle and know that if a ball gets hit, someone’s going to be diving, someone’s going to be running it down, someone’s going to be making a play,” said Campbell. “Those kinds of things are huge for your confidence to know that I don’t have to be dead-on 100 percent on every pitch. I need to be, but if I do happen to have something go wrong or miss a spot, it’s fine.”
After allowing a combined 10 runs in five bracket-play contests, there certainly wasn’t much missed by Urban at the Western Nationals.
“A lot of times it was kids just flailing at a ball with two strikes and hitting some little blooper,” Campbell said of the rare blemishes. “I don’t think Gabbi really got that many balls hit hard against her all week, she just was very precise in what she was doing.”
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