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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune North's Neveah Smith (#1) avoids a bad throw to home plate scoring a run in the 2nd inning.

Tornado blasts past Cavers

Bracing for fellow Class 6A powerhouse Grants Pass, North Medford softball coach Chris Campbell implored the Black Tornado to be the hunters, not the hunted, Tuesday. Thanks to some timely hits, a gutsy pitching performance by Rylan Austin and a disastrous day for the Grants Pass defense, the Tornado took Campbell’s advice, scoring six runs in the second inning en route to a 12-4 Southwest Conference victory at North Medford High School.

“We got a couple breaks there and some good bounces that went our way and let us get some runs ... and get up where we wanted to be, making them have to chase us,” Campbell said. “That was really key and we talked about that all day — make them come after us. We don’t want to be chasing them.”

Now, though North is still only six games into an 18-game SWC schedule, it’s Grants Pass that will be chasing North in the conference standings. North Medford, which entered the day one spot behind Grants Pass at No. 3 in the OSAA 6A rankings, improved to 11-2 overall and 6-0 in the SWC, while the Cavers suffered their first loss since April 26 and fell to 9-2 and 4-1.

“I don’t think we really focus on the standings, we focus on game by game,” said Austin, who allowed four runs on 12 hits in a complete-game effort to improve to 10-1. “So we’re going to get ready for South Medford (Saturday), and we’ll come out and compete.”

Likely most who showed up for the first showdown of the season between the teams picked first (North Medford) and second in the SWC coaches’ poll expected a game of inches decided late. Then, the second inning happened.

That’s when the Cavers committed three costly errors to help North break open the game, first taking advantage of a botched rundown between third and home to score the go-ahead run for a 2-1 lead, and later capitalizing on an errant throw to first on a would-be routine groundout.

The Tornado did its part, too. One pitch after Lauren Barry reached on the second error to load the bases, Alex Barry jumped on a high fastball by Grants Pass pitcher Alyssa Etheridge, sending it to center field and driving in two.

“I didn’t get the best part of the bat on it but it worked out,” said Barry, who was 2-for-3, drove in four runs and scored twice.

Austin was next, and she lined an inside fastball down the third-base line to drive in two more and give North a 6-1 lead.

Things went from bad to worse for Grants Pass moments later when Chelby Smalley’s infield single was thrown away, allowing another run to score.

Etheridge, who like Austin is headed to Montana State University Billings on a softball scholarship, took the loss after giving up 12 runs, eight earned, on eight hits. But the senior could hardly be blamed after the Cavers committed enough errors (7) to spell her name twice, with one to spare.

“Watching that game, North Medford made a lot more routine plays than we did,” Grants Pass coach Donnie Bellum said. “We made a lot of mistakes, had a tough time just playing catch today and just fielding routine ground balls. I don’t know how many unearned runs we gave up, but way too many against a team like North Medford.”

The Cavers still had a couple chances to get back in the game, loading the bases with two outs in the fourth and scoring two runs during a sixth-inning rally, but Austin deftly worked her way out of both jams. She got Grants Pass No. 3 hitter Halleigh Noga to chunk a weak liner to third to end the fourth, and blew away Noga and cleanup hitter Devin Ireland with strike-three fastballs to end the sixth.

“It was really nerve-racking this morning,” Austin said, “and then after the first inning I started to calm down.”

Grants Pass 101 002 0 — 4 12 7

North Medford 160 104 x — 12 8 1

Etheridge and Kuykendall; Austin and Smalley. W — Austin (10-1). L — Etheridge. 2B — GP: Kuykendall, Dougherty; NM: A. Barry, Austin. 3B — NM: L. Barry.

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