The team known for its mastery of Southwest Conference softball is two wins away from yet another league title.
Lauren Barry hit a three-run triple, senior ace Rylan Austin tossed a three-hit shutout on senior day and the North Medford Black Tornado moved closer to what would be its ninth straight conference title Tuesday with a 10-0, five-inning victory over South Medford at North Medford High.
Austin struck out four without a walk and fellow senior Lily Gann drove in two before both, along with teammates Alex Barry and Monique Kruse, were honored in an extended postgame ceremony.
The win set up a crucial rematch with Roseburg, Saturday in Roseburg, where the Tornado (19-4, 14-2 league) will be looking to avenge one of its two SWC losses and clinch no worse than a tie with Grants Pass for the league title.
Grants Pass (14-2 SWC), which kept pace by routing South Eugene 27-0 Tuesday, will try to do the same Saturday at Sheldon.
The Black Tornado already had a comfortable 6-0 lead when Lauren Barry, North’s leadoff hitter, came up with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the fifth. Facing Panthers’ reliever Ashley Wolfard, Barry, who bats from the left side, sliced Wolfard’s 1-1 offering into the left-center field gap for a standup triple.
“I wasn’t going up there looking for any pitch, I just really wanted to hit the ball and get this game over,” Barry said. “It felt really good hitting that, and then once I saw it I was like, ‘OK, we got this, we’re finishing this game.’”
The big hit did expedite the Panthers’ demise, since two batters later Austin lifted a fly ball to center that was plenty deep enough to score Barry with the run-rule clincher.
Barry’s gapper, her only one of the game, may have been a moot point the way Austin was dealing. In her last regular-season home game, the crafty righty leaned heavily on her riseball and slider and allowed only one South Medford baserunner to touch second base. The efficient, 57-pitch effort improved Austin to 19-3.
“They were working good,” she said. “I was a little anxious the first inning so all my pitches were kind of up, but after that I settled in and they started working better.”
North Medford drew first blood in the second when Grace Johnson hit a leadoff double and later scored when Kruse’s grounder to the left side of the infield was thrown over the head of Wolfard, the starting first-baseman. Kruse took third three pitches later on a catcher-to-pitcher throwaway and scored on Gann’s sacrifice fly to center.
South Medford (5-17, 3-13) finished with five errors which led to four of North’s runs, the easiest of which was gifted to the Tornado in the third when Austin chopped a single into center and, two miscues later, waltzed across home plate to give the Tornado a 3-0 lead.
“We didn’t play well at all, we didn’t show up today,” South Medford head coach Shane Ramsey said. “We’re a better team than that and we just didn’t show it and you can’t afford that against North Medford. They’re a great program, tons of experience on the team, great coaching staff ...so you’ve gotta show up with your ‘A’ game or it’s going to be over quick, as it was today.”
North Medford head coach Chris Campbell said capitalizing on opponent’s mistakes is in his team’s DNA.
“These girls are always looking to take the extra base, always looking to capitalize on somebody else’s mistake,” he said. “We work really hard on it, we work in practice at it — at just being alert and being ready to always grab that extra base if we can because that can put somebody in a scoring position and score that winning run. And it puts pressure on a team, it makes them make plays.”
Gann added to North’s lead with a two-out RBI single. South Medford starter Maddie Dalke walked the next batter, Kylie Baker, to load the bases, then walked Kyleigh Lopez on four pitches to make it 5-0 and prompt Ramsey to make a pitching change.
Wolfard pitched a 1-2-3 fourth, but North was at it again in the fifth, when Kruse drew a one-out walk, Gann reached on a booted grounder and Kylie Baker was hit by a pitch to load the bases for pinch hitter Ella Ivens. Ivens drove the first pitch she saw into left to make it 6-0, setting the table for Barry.
Now, North is two wins away — and maybe less, depending on how Grants Pass-Sheldon goes — from adding to its SWC trophy haul. If both North and GP go 2-0 Saturday, they’ll go down as co-Southwest Conference champions, though North won the season series 2-1.
A sweep Saturday may also give North a boost in the Class 6A rankings — the Tornado was sitting at No. 4 Tuesday night — heading into the 32-team state tournament, which begins with first-round games May 21.
There’s another motivating factor, too, of course: Roseburg’s 6-3 win, April 17 at North Medford.
“Well, that’s always in the back of your mind,” Campbell said. “They got us last time and you can use that as a drive.
“They’re a great team, they’ve got a lot of young kids that have been together for a long time and they’re a pretty seasoned team. We’re a pretty young team, but when you’ve got (Austin) in the circle and some of these seniors that are leading by example ...it’s all about that.”
South Medford 000 00 — 0 3 5
North Medford 023 05 — 10 7 1
Dalke, Wolfard and Clark; Austin and Smalley. W — Austin (19-3). L — Dalke (1-7). 2B — NM: Johnson. 3B — NM: L. Barry.
Reach reporter Joe Zavala at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.