Even with the sun hidden and the backdrop at U.S. Cellular Community Park fading to black, North Medford senior first baseman Tejay Schmidt could see the light.
"I had a lot of fun this weekend," said Schmidt after her team fell 5-4 to Sunset on Tuesday. "Of course we wanted to win that game. We are going to get back out there to practice and work hard and improve."
Julia Johnson drove in the winning run on a fielder's choice in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Apollos rallied to defeat the Black Tornado in the 30-team North Medford Invitational.
The game was a rematch of last year's Class 6A state title contest, which North won 4-3 in nine innings at the Oregon State University Softball Complex in Corvallis.
"We want to play the toughest teams we can find," Sunset head coach Spencer Mills said. "We are really happy with it. It just took determination. My girls came down here and their goal was to beat (North) Medford in the rematch."
With the bases loaded, Johnson slammed a pitch from freshman reliever Maryssa Becker deep to right field, driving home Kris Trindle and giving Sunset the lead in the sixth.
The Apollos were expeditious in sealing the deal, forcing two groundouts and recording a strikeout in the top of the seventh inning.
Jessie Moore, the winning pitcher, also pitched in the state championship game last season. She improved to 3-1 after allowing eight hits and no walks with five strikeouts. Sunset, with a lineup full of returning players, is off to a 5-1 start. A game earlier, the Portland school edged Grants Pass, 2-1, in a classic pitcher's duel.
The Black Tornado started sophomore Kelsie Bartley and inserted Becker in the fourth inning. North is without Class 6A player of the year Taylor Schmidt, who pitched 189 of her team's 210 innings last year in her senior campaign.
"If we play Sunset 10 times, it might be 5-5," North head coach Mike Mayben said. "It is a very competitive group and we knew going in that they have everyone back. We have all new pitchers. They are young and by the end of the season we are going to see them grow and develop."
North (7-1) finished 4-1 at the tournament, something Tejay Schmidt was proud of. She finished 3-for-3 with a run and RBI against the Apollos.
"We had a great weekend," she said. "We are disappointed, but we aren't going to hang our heads. Our pitchers did really well."
After singles by Sara Del Balzo and Moore, Erin Gray drove in the tying run on a fielder's choice in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Bartley was replaced by Becker in the fourth after allowing a double and two walks. With the bases loaded, Becker threw a wild pitch that allowed Tasha Silvius to come home, cutting the Black Tornado's lead to a run.
North had jumped on Sunset early, running out to a 3-0 lead behind an RBI double by Jenna Stevens, a single by Schmidt and a shortstop error in the first inning. The Black Tornado had four hits in the inning. Logan Hagey doubled to deep right in the top of the third inning to score Schmidt, who got on with a single up the middle.
Trindle, who went 3-for-4, sent a two-run double up the middle in the bottom of the second inning to bring her squad within a run. Moore and Gray were walked to set the stage.
"We have been hitting the ball really well lately," Schmidt said. "We knew they were a good hitting team so we knew we needed to come out here and hit really well and in the first inning we started off with three runs, and that was good. We knew we couldn't just score three and be done. We didn't really do that."
McKenna Storey had two hits and a run for North. Meghan Lyons was 3-for-3 for Sunset.
The Black Tornado only allowed 11 runs in five games at the 30-team tournament. North defeated Lake Oswego, 11-0 in six innings, and Southridge, 9-3, earlier in the day.
South Salem had been scheduled to play in the contest against Lake Oswego, but most of the team fell sick and had to return home. Hagey belted a grand slam with two outs in the sixth inning and Amanda Wolfe finished 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs.
In the win over Southridge, Amanda Freitas was 4-for-5 with an RBI, Hannah Leming 4-for-4, Bartley 2-for-3 and Kelsey Leming 2-for-3.
North Medford 301 000 0 — 4 8 2
Sunset 020 111 x — 5 8 1
Bartley, Becker (4) and Wolfe; Moore and Del Balzo. W — Moore (3-1). L — Becker (1-1). 2B — NM: Stevens, Hagey; S: Trindle, Gray.
North Medford 010 316 — 11 9 1
Lake Oswego 000 000 — 0 2 1
Becker and Wolfe; Huston and Salidar, Brashear (4). W — Becker (1-0). L — Huston. 2B — NM: Wolfe, Glazier; 3B — NM: Stevens; HR — NM: Wolfe, Hagey.
Southridge 000 111 0 — 3 7 0
North Medford 304 002 x — 9 15 0
Baldovino and Wolfe; Beatty and Tenadal. W — Baldovino (4-0). L — Beatty. 2B — NM: Bartley, K. Leming. 3B — S: Komin, Gonzalez.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or e-mail email@example.com