North edges GP, advances to semis
The feeling felt familiar to coach Mike Mayben.
The game was tied, it was late and the North Medford softball team needed a big hit in a big game.
Enter Grace Jovanovic.
The Black Tornado junior blasted a walk-off triple to left-center field in the bottom of the seventh inning to clinch North's 3-2 win over Grants Pass in the Class 6A state quarterfinals on Friday.
Megan Cowden scored the winning run from first base with two outs after being walked.
In last year's state title contest against Glencoe, Jovanovic laced a game-winning single to left in the eighth.
"Just look at the state championship game," said Mayben after the triumph at North Medford High. "She just has that kind of confidence where she can step up to the plate and not get too caught up in the emotion of what's going on."
The victory sealed a 4 p.m. semifinal date with Westview on Tuesday at North Medford High. Westview (22-8), which has not played any Southern Oregon Hybrid teams this season, edged Barlow 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
Two-time defending state champion North Medford (27-2) has advanced to the semifinals the last three years and has made six straight appearances in the quarterfinals.
The Black Tornado's task on Friday was to beat its SOH rival for a fourth time this year, and — as usual — Grants Pass (20-8) didn't make it easy. North trailed 2-0 after Aleah Stevens hit an RBI single with the bases loaded in the top of the third inning and Nicole Godwin scored on an ensuing error.
No reason to panic, North's Janelle Rodgers said.
"Actually, we weren't nervous," she said. "We just knew we had to hit them better. ... We are a pretty calm team. We don't get too nervous. We just believe in ourselves."
The Black Tornado had its revenge in the bottom of the inning: Joci Ellis drove in Rodgers after smashing a pitch down the third-base line and advancing to third on an error. Cowden was then walked and Jovanovic had a bunt single before Alexis Barkwell drew a bases-loaded walk to even things at 2.
"We saw the composure of our team there," Mayben said. "There's not a lot of fear."
As cool as ever, Barkwell recorded a pair of strikeouts and induced a groundout in the top of the seventh inning with the score still even at 2.
In the bottom of the seventh, Rodgers flew out, Ellis grounded out and then Cowden was walked on a 3-2 pitch.
That's when Jovanovic saved everybody some time by connecting on the first pitch she saw. The ball went flying, the large crowd roared its approval, Cowden crossed home plate and the Black Tornado dugout went wild.
"The second it was in the air I was already outside the dugout," Ellis recalled. "I thought we were going to win it right there."
Jovanovic finished 2-for-4.
"I had been struggling with hitting off Amy (Robinson) the whole day," she said. "I was just determined to hit the ball."
Rodgers went 2-for-3 and SOH player of the year Ellis was 2-for-4.
Barkwell tossed a five-hitter with nine strikeouts and two walks.
Robinson, the SOH pitcher of the year, allowed seven hits with nine strikeouts and three walks for the Cavers, who were picked to finish third in the SOH before the season started. They won 12 of their final 14 games — with both losses coming against North.
"We battled injuries the first part of the year (and) battled kids being gone, different things like that," Grants Pass head coach Donnie Bellum said. "We have always been a kind of a slow-starting team, but then we got our team back together, got our group back together and it's a great group of kids. ... To have them all healthy and playing the way they did, it's great."
Grants Pass 002 000 0 — 2 5 2 North Medford 002 000 1 — 3 7 2
Robinson and Stevens; Barkwell and Ramsay. W — Barkwell (24-2). L — Robinson. 3B — NM: Jovanovic.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt