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North softball standout Smith off to PSU

When Neveah Smith joined North Medford High’s club softball program, she was presented with a challenge.

The coaches moved her from the infield to the outfield even though her arm wasn’t very strong and balls hit in the air were an adventure.

“There’s a lot of truth to that, for sure,” laughed Smith, a senior at North Medford who is to sign a letter of intent today to play NCAA Division I softball with Portland State. “I really had a hard time catching pop flies in the infield, believe it or not. They moved me to the outfield and said, OK, this is your best chance at making the varsity as a freshman, so you need to work at that, and that’s what I did.”

“It was definitely a challenge,” added Smith, who began playing in the Black Tornado system at age 10. “But I’ve definitely gotten better at it.”

As evidenced by the college interest she’s attracted.

Smith will join a Vikings program on the upswing under coach Meadow McWhorter. In 2019, it registered its first 20-win season since 2013.

McWhorter will get a player in Smith who no longer has trepidation about roaming the outfield.

“One hundred percent, I love the outfield,” said Smith, who carries a 3.9 grade-point average. “It’s for sure where I’m meant to be. I love everything about it. I love being able to run from center field to right field and to left field. I love running.”

Smith has rounded into a top-notch high school player and has made the most of a busy tournament schedule since June despite COVID-19 hardships.

She hasn’t played for North Medford since the spring of her sophomore year in 2019, when she was a second-team all-Southwest Conference player. In two varsity seasons, she batted .429 and stole 38 bases.

Blessed with speed and deft hand-eye coordination, the left-handed slap hitter and center fielder hooked up with the Oregon Blaze Gold club program in Beaverton and has played in about 10 tournaments since June.

“It’s really exciting being able to do that and to have the opportunity since we kind of had the year taken from us this year,” said Smith. “It was sad, but I was lucky enough to be able to play on a high-level team like that.”

She played in a tournament last week in Arizona. The team has also traveled to Texas and California, “kind of all over,” said Smith.

Smith, who also played for the Black Tornado club when feasible in the summer, batted leadoff for Blaze Gold.

She hit .459 and had an on-base percentage of .523. She was 26-for-26 stealing bases, drew an abundance of walks and had five doubles, two triples and an inside-the-park home run in roughly 35 games.

North Medford coach Chris Campbell cited Smith’s penchant for putting pressure on defenses.

“Oh, by far, one of her greatest assets, that and being a lefty slapper,” he said, referring to her speed. “If you can be a lefty slapper and have speed like hers, that’s a tough combination to get out on a regular basis. Just her ability to put the ball in play and put pressure on teams to have to make a perfect play to get her out has been incredible.”

Smith was timed for her home-to-home speed — one trip around the bases — and made it in a blistering 11.03 seconds. She also posted fast times in 20- and 40-yard sprint tests during triple crown tournaments.

No wonder she likes to run, and she hopes to get plenty of chances at Portland State, which she selected over Southern Oregon University.

“Portland State was definitely where I wanted to go,” said Smith. “My goal as an athlete has always been to play at he highest level possible. I’ve always wanted to play Division I. That’s where I felt it would best fit me and my skills.

“With my class, they’re bringing in a few other slappers, so they want to make sure they get some more speed. They found that’s important in their program.”

The Vikings went 6-18 this past spring, the start of McWhorter’s third year, before the season was canceled due to the coronavirus. Many of their preseason tournament games were against Pac-12, Big 10 and Big 12 teams.

The year before, they went 20-31 overall and were 8-9 in conference play.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com.

Neveah Smith