PORTLAND — North Medford’s softball team had an answer for everything Clackamas threw its way Tuesday.
Well, almost everything,
Clackamas unleashed a 10-hit attack with four home runs and then withstood a frantic seventh-inning comeback by North Medford to edge the defending state-champion Black Tornado 8-7 in Tuesday’s Class 6A softball semifinal at Clackamas High School.
Tied at 5-5 in the fourth, Clackamas’ Alyssa Daniell hit a two-run homer and Olivia Musso added a solo shot as the No. 2-ranked Cavaliers spoiled North Medford’s bid to reach the championship final for the second season in a row and the sixth time in 10 seasons.
North Medford (25-5) pushed home two runs in the seventh and had two runners in scoring position when Clackamas reliever Nicole McBride retired Lauren Barry on a bouncer back to the mound for the final out.
“The kids battled,” Tornado coach Chris Campbell said. “Clackamas put runs up on the board and we came back and battled. This team will not die. They always give you 110 percent, so there’s really nothing more we can ask for.”
North Medford opened the playoffs with consecutive playoff wins over Reynolds, Sheldon and Tigard, setting the stage for Tuesday’s road game against a Clackamas team that averages an eye-popping 10.4 runs a game.
Much has been made of the Cavaliers’ home field and the fences that are an estimated 180 to 185 feet from home plate, whereas most fields have fences that are at least 200 feet from the plate. As such, Clackamas coach Ken Gemma often hears how many of the homers that the Cavs hit on their home field would be routine fly outs almost everywhere else.
“They say it all the time,” Gemma said. “The only thing I can say is, ‘You’re playing on the same field we are, so you can hit routine fly balls just as well as we can.’
“Yeah, maybe it helped us win, but we also hit balls into the parking lot as well, so I still say we’re a power-hitting team. Wherever we play, girls are going to hit balls out of the park. It’s just the way it is.”
Clackamas took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Kylee Vanderbout drew a one-out walk from North Medford starter Rylan Austin and scored on Joey Miller’s two-out single to left.
In the second inning, Clackamas Madison Stateler and Shaylee Monise hit one-out singles and then Kylie Hegar sent a 0-1 pitch from Austin over the fence in left field to give Clackamas a 4-0 lead.
North Medford answered in the third when the Tornado sent nine batters to the plate and scored five runs on four hits and two Clackamas errors. Ella Ivens provided the key blow with a two-out double to the gap in left-center field that scored Chelby Smalley and Grace Johnson to give the Tornado a 5-4 lead.
“At that stage of the game, everybody was super-excited,” Ivens said. “We knew that four runs were easy to come back from, and when it was my turn, I was just super-hyped to step up and do something for our team.”
Clackamas countered in the home half of the third when Kaelyn Lawrence hit a two-out homer that cleared the fence in right-center by a few feet, drawing the Cavaliers even at 5-5.
“You can’t make a mistake on this field,” Campbell said. “Even on good pitches, if they get the meat of the bat on the ball, they’re going to go.”
Clackamas was at it again in the fourth when Vanderbout hit a double to left with one out and Daniell drove a 3-1 pitch over the fence in left to extend the lead to 7-5.
Musso then took Austin out to straightaway center to make it 8-5.
“Some of those are balls that get caught 99 percent of the time on other fields,” Campbell said. “You can’t expect Rylan to change her pitching philosophy or her approach. She’s just going to come out and try to hit her spots and do what she does.
“Clackamas just hit some great balls and they just happened to find a place where we couldn’t catch them.”
Smalley led off the seventh for North Medford with a homer to right-center, keeping the Tornado’s hopes alive. Johnson and Lily Gann each reached on errors, and Johnson scored when pinch-hitter Shahar Miles beat out an infield single with two outs, but the rally ended there.
“I’m really proud of my team to push it to the end,” said Austin, one of the four seniors making their final appearance for North Medford. “Nobody thought we were going to repeat, so to make it this far means a lot. We played hard the whole entire time and just came up one game shy.”
Said Ivens: “We gave it our all. Playing on a field with 180-foot fences, we did what we could. We put the ball in play and they made some good plays, and they had some balls that made it over the fence that we couldn’t do anything about. Ultimately, I still think that game could have fallen either way.
“We had a great season, especially considering nobody thought we’d be here. After graduating nine seniors last year, we were still just as competitive and we gave 100 percent every moment of every game.”
North Medford 005 000 2 — 7 11 2
Clackamas 131 300 x — 8 10 3
Austin and Smalley; Monise, McBride (4) and Hegar. W — McBride. L — Austin (25-4). 2B — NM: Ivens; C: Vanderbout. HR — NM: Smalley; C: Daniell, Hegar, Lawrence, Musso.