After watching Chelby Smalley’s rocket-launching show during batting practice, North Medford softball coach Chris Campbell had a hunch his starting catcher might go off Friday, and boy was he right.
Smalley hit two run-scoring doubles in her first two at-bats before smashing her first high school home run, leading the Black Tornado to a 9-2 victory over Tigard in the Class 6A state quarterfinals Friday at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
The win advanced the third-seeded Tornado to the state semifinals, where it will travel to face No. 2 Clackamas on Tuesday. Clackamas beat Grants Pass, 6-2, on Friday. On the other side of the bracket, top-seeded Tualatin will host fifth-seeded Oregon City.
Smalley’s big day began with a deep drive off the wall in center in the top of the first that scored Rylan Austin from second to give the Tornado a 2-0 lead. She added another two-bagger into the right-center gap in the third to give North a 3-1 lead, and homered to center in the sixth to complete a four-run burst that finished off the visitors.
Smalley, who finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs, couldn’t contain her smile as she rounded the bases and was greeted by a mob of teammates at home plate.
“It was high but I wasn’t sure it was going to be gone, but then I saw it and I was really happy,” she said of her homer. “I was really, really excited.”
“That kid had a phenomenal game,” Campbell said, “she just got in there and dug her foot in and just went after her pitch. She just had that vision in her eye that today is my day and she definitely stepped up, drove in some runs and got us rolling in the right direction right off the bat.”
Smalley’s homer allowed the Tornado to finally decompress a little after what had been a tightly-contested Elite 8 game, which saw the 11th-seeded Tigers (24-5) of the Three Rivers League crawl to within 3-2 in the fifth and put the tying run on second base with its No. 2 hitter, Madison Hoover, stepping up to the plate.
Tornado ace Austin took care of that threat herself by getting Hoover to fly out with the count full. That was two innings after Austin (25-3) induced a groundout by Hoover that left the tying run stranded at third in what was then a 2-1 game.
Austin struck out six without a walk while allowing two earned runs in the complete-game effort to notch her eighth straight postseason victory. Her counterpart, Ashley Davis, struck out five and walked four while giving up nine runs in six innings.
After North’s two-run first, Tigard, which had a six-game winning streak snapped, cut the Tornado lead in half when Lexi Klum sliced a triple to deep right that tailed away from Lily Gann, allowing Sophia VanderSommen to score from second.
North Medford (25-4), which has won eight straight, got it back in the bottom of the inning when Rylan Austin reached on an infield single, stole second and scored on Smalley’s line drive to right-center.
Tigard mounted its most serious charge in the fifth, when consecutive hits by Abby Soderquist, Caroline Riggs and Klum led to a run and a two-on, two-out jam for Austin. The senior kept her composure, however, even after Hoover worked the count to 2-1 and later 3-2 before lifting a sky-high pop up that Grace Johnson squeezed to end the threat.
For the second time in the game the Tornado answered the Tigers in the bottom of the frame, as Alex Barry hit a leadoff triple over the left fielder’s head and later scored on a fielder’s choice. Next up was Gann, who lost a 10-pitch battle to Davis in the first and grounded out in her previous at-bat.
“I was just thinking of my team because I don’t want to let them down,” Gann said, “so I was just going up with a focused mentality of getting in the zone and ready to hit. I was just looking for (Davis) to come in my zone and look for that good pitch that I want.”
She got it, and was able to steer it down the line in right for a double that easily scored Johnson from second to give North its largest lead of the game up to that point, 5-2.
The victory moved the Tornado to within two wins of its first back-to-back state championship since it won two straight in 2012 and 2013. First, it’ll have to find a way to beat a Clackamas team that’s won seven straight, including a 3-2 second-round victory over Roseburg.
“It feels phenomenal,” Campbell said. “Just to be able to take this journey with these kids has been great.”
“I think we’re just going to go in just like we came into Tigard,” Smalley said. “They were a really good team and we’re just going to go in the same. We’re doing really good talking right now — in cheering and staying up — and we just have to go in with that same mentality and keep the momentum going.”
Davis and Paulson; Austin and Smalley. W — Austin (25-3). L — Davis. 2B — T: Davis, Soderquist; NM: Smalley 2, Johnson, Gann. 3B — T: Klum. HR — NM: Smalley (1).
Reach reporter Joe Zavala at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com