Following in her footsteps
As the wild ride toward the Black Tornado's sixth softball state title turned corner after crazy corner until a final destination in Corvallis, Carrie Becker found herself at wit's end in support of her daughter Maryssa.
All the pressure of living up to expectations as the state's No. 1-ranked team, three straight playoff games decided by one run in a span of seven days that involved playing 29 innings, her daughter standing front and center — it almost got to be too much.
"Those three (extra-inning) playoff games, her dad (Ron) and I both developed ulcers," Carrie says with a laugh. "That week was definitely hard on the whole family."
So hard, in fact, that Carrie never really considered her link to history when Maryssa's 15th strikeout secured a 3-0 victory over South Salem in the Class 6A championship.
"This whole state championship thing, that I have one and now she has one, I never really thought about it because it was so unreal being there and going through the playoffs like we did," says Carrie. "Someone had to come up to me and say that and the more I started thinking about it, I thought, 'How cool is it to have a mother and daughter to have a state championship?' We're so fortunate to live in this valley and have the kind of coaches and experiences that we've both been able to have."
Not only do Carrie and Maryssa each own state championships in softball, the remarkable thing is both were earned as part of the same Black Tornado program. A then-Carrie Larson helped Medford High to its first softball title in 1984 as an all-state first baseman, while Maryssa was a driving force behind North Medford's run to the 2012 state title as a pitcher and clutch hitter.
"It's definitely been pretty surreal watching her come up in the Black Tornado program like I did," says Carrie. "It's been an amazing time for our family."
For her efforts, Maryssa was named the 6A pitcher of the year and Gatorade player of the year for Oregon after going 26-0 with a 0.43 ERA. She was joined on the 6A all-state first team by North Medford sophomore shortstop Joci Ellis and Crater senior right fielder Rachel Ray. Black Tornado head coach Mike Mayben was selected as 6A coach of the year for the second time.
Second-team all-state honors went to North Medford catcher Katie Williamson and center fielder Sierra Berryessa and Crater first baseman Kenzie Rohde, while Crater shortstop Malorie Mitchell (third team), North Medford designated hitter Michelle Draper (third team) and right fielder Grace Jovanovic (honorable mention) also were recognized.
"It's really cool to have her as a softball player and a mom because I've watched my teammates and their moms and I don't think they have that common ground that we have so it's really special," says Maryssa.
As testament to their special qualities, both mother and daughter have their names etched among the Black Tornado record books.
Carrie was a power-hitting force during her day, forming a phenomenal one-two punch with Angie Jacobs at the plate to support pitcher Tressa Arnsberg as the 1984 team went 29-1 and beat Central Catholic 6-0 in the state final that year. Carrie and Jacobs each had a home run and a triple in that game, with Carrie swatting a gaudy three home runs and putting two more to the fence en route to eight RBIs in an earlier game that year against Grants Pass.
"She was an aggressive baserunner and she just hit the snot out of the ball and was an unbelievable competitor," says Larry Binney, Carrie's coach in 1984 who laid the foundation for so much of the Black Tornado program's success. "She was real fiery and could get pretty pumped up in some situations."
Carrie still holds the program record with 11 triples during her senior season in 1984, and her .966 slugging percentage that year stands second on the all-time list to Stephanie Adams' .968 in 1999.
Mom actually got bumped further down the single-season record list in a few categories by her daughter, with Maryssa's seven home runs in 2012 moving Carrie from a tie for second place with six into a tie for third now. Maryssa's 47 RBIs moved her into sole possession of second place — one RBI behind Steph Coe's 48 — and pushed Carrie's 39 down to fifth place. Maryssa also now stands first in doubles for a season with 15, with Carrie tied for fourth place now with her nine in 1983.
Neither Becker gets too involved in the single-season and career totals or where they rank, with Carrie more than happy to see her numbers surpassed because that only means her beloved Black Tornado program is still thriving.
"I just think the quality of coaching and the people they have in the program says a lot of the system and how it works," says Carrie. "The Black Tornado program has always been so rich in coaching and talented players, we were both just fortunate to be able to play a part in it."
There are obvious comparisons one can make between the players who starred in their own generation when it comes to prowess at the plate. Carrie played her games at the spacious Fagone Field, likely allowing for more triples and less home runs, while Maryssa has split time at the tighter confines of North Medford High and U.S. Cellular Community Park. Each has shown a knack for making solid contact, with Carrie conceding a slight edge to her daughter.
"I don't think she has to put near the effort into it to get the ball to go as far as she gets it to go as I had to," says Carrie. "I used my whole body and legs but she has more upper arm and body strength these days to help her put it out there."
Binney, who remains close to the program, says the hitting similarities are there, for sure, but Maryssa is a little more reserved in her approach than when her mom took the field.
"Maryssa's a little quieter but you can just see when she's on the mound or up at the plate that she's got that same tremendous desire to want to be successful," says Binney. "She's very, very competitive, too, but in a little quieter style, I guess."
Carrie agrees with that assessment.
"She is definitely a different kid than I was," says the mom. "I believe internally she's as competitive, if not more, than I was but mine was more exterior. I think she kinda just likes to go up there and take care of things on the mound and lets her numbers speak for themselves. I was diving and bloody every game, but she doesn't have to be that way."
In speaking of Carrie's tenacity, Binney likes to tell the story of a state ASA tournament after the Black Tornado had won its state title when a player had been ruled ineligible due to a technicality and that cost the girls a pair of victories. One of the opposing coaches, after his team had lost to the Tornado, brought the player's eligibility in question and that didn't sit well with Carrie at all.
"I thought Carrie was going to go beat the guy up," Binney says with a laugh. "She was a little fired up to say the least and was ready to rip his head off. She was all business when she was out there."
But as into the game as Carrie was, she and her husband never really pushed Maryssa into playing softball to potentially continue on the tradition. Soccer and basketball both came before softball, although the lure of the diamond proved too much for Maryssa to deny by the time she was around 8.
Even then, Maryssa says her mom didn't say or do much more than simply provide support.
"She gives me my space, which I like," says the Louisville-bound junior. "We kind of know each other and I'll know when to ask her about something and she'll know how to answer. If I come home and say that I couldn't hit the ball she'll just tell me that it's OK and it's only one day. If I need more than that then she will give me some advice on what to try but she doesn't push anything on me. Having that support has been really helpful throughout the years. It's kinda nice because she knows where I'm coming from."
The nice part for Carrie is that her daughter began to focus on pitching at an early age, and that's something she had no experience with as a player.
"The one position I really never, ever played in my older years was pitcher and when she took on that position I thought, 'Well, that's probably pretty good because that's the one position I probably knew nothing about,'" says Carrie. "For me, it was actually easier to just stay back and watch her learn as she learned about pitching with her dad."
In fact, it's Ron Becker, himself a Medford High athlete in his day, whom Carrie credits with shouldering the load for Maryssa's pitching exploits. He'll venture out and catch Maryssa until late in the night as she works to hone her craft.
It's a work ethic that both mother and daughter are willing to put forth, knowing the end result can only be positive. Carrie spoke of the long hours into the night that former Binney assistant coach Duke Anderson would throw batting practice to her and Jacobs. Maryssa has enjoyed similar assistance from the Maybens, Mike and Casey, as well as assistant coaches Rod Rumrey and Greg Winner, among others.
"There's some athletic genes there, no doubt about it," says Binney, "but they have both been willing to put the work in, too."
And both readily admit that they've been fortunate to be surrounded by so many standout players during their time, making it that much easier to shine on the diamond.
"I couldn't have done any of it without my teammates," says Maryssa. "From my catcher Katie to Hannah (Leming) and Joci up the middle and our seniors like Kelsie (Bartley) and Sierra and Marissa (Gann) "… just everybody has done so much for me and I love them all."
As does Carrie, who marvels at the way the game is played today compared to how it was in her time.
"I just absolutely love the game and it's so fun watching these girls now," she says. "Things have definitely changed and it's gotten progressively so much faster. The pitching's gotten to a level that I don't know if it can get any better than it is now. It's just been such a pleasure watching Maryssa and all the girls. It's hard to believe they accomplished what they did and I've just been so proud."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry