North Medford's Amanda Freitas is batting .426 this season out of the ninth spot in the lineup. - Jamie Lusch

Bursting onto the Scene

As the story goes, Amanda Freitas made quite a first impression on the North Medford softball coaches when she was just an eighth grader.

At first it was because the diminutive Freitas showed up wearing tight jeans with holes in the knees, slip-on shoes and makeup more suited for a big night out than a gymnasium tryout.

To be honest, Freitas didn't exactly look the part upon first glance.

Then she ran from home plate to first base in a timed exercise. And in that moment, Freitas won over all in attendance.

The 5-foot-3, 116-pound dynamo has done nothing but add to that positive impression ever since.

"When she came to us a few years back, the biggest thing we noticed was how quick she was and how she had really good hand-eye coordination," says North Medford head coach Mike Mayben. "We've watched her mature from being a freshman where you're not sure where she's going to fit in to a starter by her sophomore year. It's been a pretty impressive growth."

Freitas and company will look to continue that at 4:30 p.m. today when they play host to Central Catholic (19-5) and Washington-bound pitcher Kaitlin Inglesby in the state quarterfinals. The Black Tornado beat Inglesby and the Rams 2-0 in the second round last year.

As a junior left fielder these days, Freitas has emerged as an integral piece of the puzzle for the reigning Class 6A state champions. She led North Medford with a .487 batting average a season ago and has added a little more pop in her bat this year to hit .429 with 26 runs and 18 stolen bases for the top-ranked Tornado (26-2).

Her on-base average of .522 has her tied for second on the team with Jenna Stevens. They both trail senior McKenna Storey (.584), who is also the only player with a better batting average (.520) than Freitas.

"I've always just tried to do the best I can to get the ball down in the ground any way I can and then go from there," says Freitas, 16.

Even that is a feat in itself when you consider Freitas was a natural right-handed hitter until the North Medford coaches got their hands on her. Given her blazing speed, it seemed natural to turn her around and make her a left-handed hitter. Natural, of course, for all those involved in the decision but Freitas.

"It was just kind of a shock at first to even comprehend that I was going to be switching sides and hitting left-handed," she admits. "It was quite different. I get a lot different view on the ball, especially walking toward it as it's coming at me. But I had really good coaches helping me make the change."

Freitas flirted with the change in eighth grade, and would move back over to the right side when she had two strikes on her through the first half of her freshman year.

"I stopped moving back over halfway through my freshman year after I got a couple really good hits left-handed," says Freitas, who also boasts a 3.3 GPA. "After that the coaches said, 'That's it,' and I couldn't hit right-handed anymore."

The process began with her mostly bunting from the left side and then using her speed to reach safely. She began to blossom as a slap-hitter last year, and has come full circle to where she can just as easily drop a bunt down as she can send a shot deep into the outfield.

"Last year I was a little more about placement and this year I've gotten a lot stronger on the left side and I can hit it further than I used to be able to," Freitas says proudly. "I had always watched some of my other teammates like McKenna be able to rip shots and I never could do that, but this year I've been able to come out and help my team even more by putting myself in scoring positions in clutch situations."

In reality, Freitas has developed into a not-so-secret weapon for the Tornado despite batting ninth in the lineup. Finding the right person for that spot to help turn the lineup over is highly valued by any coach, and Mayben says he knew right away that Freitas was a perfect fit at No. 9.

"You always want somebody with speed who can get on base a lot and make good contact there," says the coach. "And this year she's actually stepped up and driven in some key runs late in games to help us that way, too."

It was Freitas' leadoff triple 21/2 weeks ago that set the stage for Storey's eighth-inning heroics as North scored its third win over No. 3 Grants Pass to sweep the series. She was also 2-for-3 with two runs scored in the Tornado's 4-3 championship win over Sunset last year, further strengthening her status as a big-game player.

Her clutch abilities did give Mayben some thoughts of moving Freitas out of the No. 9 spot for a time, but the tinkering didn't last long.

"It wasn't a bad situation," the coach says of batting Freitas in the leadoff spot, "it just didn't give us quite the same results as we had been getting. It's more of a reflection on how valuable it is to have a kid like Amanda on the bottom of the lineup putting the ball in play and getting on base than anything else. Most teams don't get anything out of that spot and we get a ton of production with her at the end of our lineup."

And so it continues for Freitas, who tried soccer in her younger days but fell in love with softball right away. And although some would suggest her fleet feet would make her a natural sprinter on the track team, she's never once thought about stepping away from the diamond.

"I like my 60 feet," she says of her territory on the basepaths. "I'm not a long distance person; 60 feet is good for me."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail

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