Westview softball can't overcome North Medford in 6A state championship game, 11-3
The silver second place trophy nobody wanted, sat idly on the first base chalk, lonely and barely touched with a few specks of infield dirt already accumulating on the base of the ostracized award.
Westview first baseman Ananya Koneti looked down at it with disdain, her arms crossed. Emma Williams stared out at right field and walked to the Wildcats' last team huddle near the rightfield fence without so much as an acknowledgment of the keepsake. Shortstop Valeti Fifita couldn't help but crack a small smile as the stream of Westview softball players paid the prize no mind and solemnly strolled away.
Meanwhile, out in left, North Medford was busy posing for pictures with their mega-watt smiles and shimmering gold medals. In a battle of blue-blooded programs, it was the Black Tornado who broke the game open with a 10-run second inning that ultimately clinched the Class 6A state championship an 11-3 win on Saturday at the Oregon State softball complex. It was North Medford's first state title since 2013.
Finally, Westview's Catriona McKay and Reece Martin, the final two Wildcats to walk off the field, looked at each other in almost "nose goes" kind of pickle. Neither wanted to lug the trophy off of the field as if picking up the award would signify the finalization of their team's fate. Finally, McKay begrudgingly picked up the already rejected relic and began her slow trek to meet her teary-eyed teammates.
Though it seemed like Westview was playing with house money by just reaching the Class 6A state championship game, that in no way made the final outcome any less harrowing.
"It's great to still get second place out of all of these teams, it's an honor, but it's still hard to see (North Medford) get the trophy that we feel we deserved," Westview senior catcher Natalie Munson said. "I think we earned the right to play in this game. We could've played better, but overall I'm very proud of this team and this season and how far we've come. Every practice we took at 100 percent and tried to work on a weakness that we could get better at. We came together and had a great season. I couldn't be more proud."
And with that, a Wildcat team that was told by the outside public it wasn't supposed to be here, that they were a year away from the state stage and didn't have the personnel to be considered truly elite, finished off its season just a step short of championship glory, leaving a group of newfound believers and a legion of impressed onlookers in its wake.
"This is by far the best team I've ever been on," Koneti said. "Our chemistry, our energy, just everything came together. People stepped up when we needed to and did their jobs. Nobody was afraid to do that."
After playing quite possibly its best all-around game of the year in an upset win over Oregon City in the 6A semifinals, the Wildcats were undone by a single doomed second stanza filled with nine hits and 14 Black Tornado batters. Black Tornado senior leftfielder Mahal Miles drove in the stanza's first run and closed it with a two-run triple that made it 10-1. Between Miles' RBI appearances, North Medford senior outfielder Jordan Neathamer landed the inning's biggest play with an opposite field two-run homer and seniors Taylor Mayben and Ashley Ripplinger each brought in a run.
It was one of those nightmarish innings that got away, the kind that ironically Westview was used to putting on teams as they did against Beaverton when the Wildcats erased a 6-0 deficit with eight runs in the sixth. This game, however, the shoe was on the other foot.
"They did what we've done in a lot of games — pile runs on top of each other and keep the rally going," Koneti said. "They hit the ball well and put it where they needed to put it. They hit line drives. They didn't pop it up. There's nothing we could've done as a team to stop that. It was (North Medford's) inning."
North Medford scored five runs off Mia Patino, who gave way to Kendal Gantz after 1 1/3 innings. Gantz gave up five runs before giving the ball to McKay, who in similar fashion to her outing against Beaverton, came in and starred in the circle as a right-handed reliever, throwing 4 2/3 innings of one-run softball.
With Westview's armed-and-ready offense waiting in the wings against a North Medford pitcher in Rylan Austin who was accurate, but not overpowering, a nine-run deficit didn't seem out of the realm of possibility, particularly with six innings to go. And interestingly enough, Westview had nearly as many team hits (10) as North Medford (12). In the end, though, while Westview was able to score twice with two outs in the top of the fifth to stave off early elimination, the Cats couldn't conjure up the kind of game-swinging rally that became their staple this spring. To begin the game, Reece Martin and Williams both reached base and moved over into scoring position with nobody out. And Westview junior Kelsey Day dumped a one-out RBI to left that was dropped by Miles to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. North Medford actually committed two errors in the first inning but kept the damage to a minimum thanks to two fine plays by Taelor Mayben at third base which put out the Wildcats' early smolder. In all Westview left 12 runners on base, eight of which were in scoring position.
Still, down 11-1 in the top of the fifth, Fifita hit a chopper to third, hustled down the first base side and legged out the infield single to keep the game and Westview's season on life support. Taylor Alto followed with a single and Patino popped a ball to short that was mishandled, which allowed Fifita to score and keep the game going at 11-2. Maddie Curaming added to the two-out rally with a RBI single to left to make it 11-3.
In 2015, Westview was washed out in five innings by Tualatin, but Koneti said this year's version of the Wildcats played with a discrete form of pride.
"The difference between this team and the team two years ago is we didn't give up this time," Koneti said. "The score might not show it, but I think we really battled the entire game. We had runners on base and kept making contact. After the second inning, especially it would've been really easy to say 'We can't do anything now', but the fact we've had comebacks in the past helped our mentality. We tried to chip away."
"It shows a lot about the character of our team and how we play for each other and not just for ourselves," Munson added. "We want each other to do well for the sake of our whole team. We've become really close this year."
While the Wildcats committed five errors including two costly ones in the aforementioned second inning, the Black Tornado made four misplays on the afternoon. Take away the second inning, as Koneti said, and Westview leads 3-1. But, as the Wildcats are well aware, that's the occasional nature of softball.
"I know we're still the best team out here," Koneti said. "If the second inning was gone we would've won 3-1. Congrats to North Medford, they won fair and square. But in my opinion, I think we played great and one inning shouldn't define our season."
North Medford finished its 2017 season with a Southwest Conference championship, an 18-game winning streak, a 30-1 record and the No. 3 ranking in the state.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, ended 2017 with a Metro League championship, a 27-5 record, wins in 10 of their final 11 games and the No. 5 ranking in the state. Martin and Alto both went 2-for-4 at the plate. Curaming went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk.