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Cardinals keep it close, but lose in softball semis

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Lincoln softball players (from left) Laken Gobel, Jenna Stanford, Courtney Huston, Morgan Ashton and Elana Schaefer, all seniors, get together moments after the Cardinals' 2-0 loss to No. 1 North Medford in Tuesday's Class 6A semifinals.The best softball team in Lincoln High history met the best player in the state on Tuesday.

Irresistible force vs. immovable object, you might say.

And the force that the Cardinals have been this season couldn't knock the object — ace Maryssa Becker (and defending Class 6A champion North Medford )— off its perch.

The Cardinals mustered only an infield single and three walks in seven innings against Becker, who struck out 13 to lead the Black Tornado to a 2-0 win at Jesuit in the state semifinals.

"We just couldn't put the ball in play hard," Lincoln coach Dennis Muir said.

The Cardinals, who had won their previous 20 games, finished 25-4.

North Medford, 28-2, moved into Saturday's 1 p.m. championship game at the Oregon State Softball Complex.

The Black Tornado will face No. 2-ranked Glencoe (28-1), a 5-2 winner Tuesday at Roseburg. The Crimson Tide beat North Medford 4-3 on March 25 during a tournament hosted by the Black Tornado.

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Sophomore first baseman Jordan Coleman takes a cut for Lincoln in the 6A semifinals game at Jesuit High.Lincoln battled hard in its first semifinals appearance — the Cards had reached the round of 16 last year — but the PIL squad never hit a ball beyond the infield.

The Cardinals' best scoring chance came in the bottom of the fourth inning, with the teams scoreless.

Senior second baseman Morgan Ashton led off with a walk, then went to third when the next batter, senior center fielder Jenna Stanford, got aboard on a grounder in the hole that North Medford shortstop Joci Ellis overthrew to first base.

But Stanford was thrown out trying to reach second on the error, and Becker got out of the jam with two strikeouts.by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Lincoln High senior Jenna Stanford takes a swing at Maryssa Becker pitch in the seventh inning of Tuesday's 2-0 Cardinals loss to North Medford.

Becker, a senior who is headed for Louisville, got all the offense she needed in the next inning.

With two out, singles by Katie Ramsay (on a spinning grounder to third) and Katie Williamson gave North Medford runners on first and second.

Then came the play of the game: Alexis Barkwell drew ball four to load the bases, but Lincoln catcher Lexi Washington attempted a throw to third as Ramsay began dashing to a base she had coming to her anyway. Washington's throw went into foul territory outside the left-field line, and Ramsay scooted home with the game's first run.

"We talk about knowing outs, score, who's on base, who's coming up to bat, all those things," Muir said, "but they (the Black Tornado) put a lot of pressure on you. We just lost track of the outs and got caught up in the emotion of the deal.

"But it wasn't one mistake that cost us — you can only play so good on defense. We really got beat on the offensive side."

North Medford's next batter, Keisha Williams, drove in another run with a ground ball single, before Lincoln senior Courtney Huston struck out Michelle Draper to end the threat.

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Courtney Huston, Lincoln pitcher, delivers against North Medford.The Auburn-bound Huston pitched valiantly, scattering seven hitters and fanning eight batters. She had to deal with some questionable calls, which helped North Medford receive nine walks, and the relentless pressure the Black Tornado attack imposes on opponents.

The Southern Oregon Conference champions frequently got Huston into 3-2 counts and left 13 runners on base.

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Lincoln catcher Lexi Washington (left) confers on the mound with pitcher Courtney Huston as the Cardinals plot to stop a North Medford threat in the seventh inning."Tough umpire. I was really frustrated with a lot of pitches that weren't called strikes," Huston said. "Even the umpire on the field was saying they were strikes."

Muir also noted that the strike zone seemed different for North Medford.

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Third baseman Elena Schaefer of Lincoln throws out a North Medford runner.The Cardinals' defense made plays that prevented a run in the fourth and kept multiple runs off the board in the seventh.

In the fourth, North Medford had a runner on second with two out, when Ellis hit a screamer right at Huston. The ball bounced off the pitcher's glove, though, and sophomore shortstop Morgan Portlock was there to get the batter at first with a solid throw.

North Medford loaded the bases on walks, with none out, in the seventh. The Cards survived, as Portlock caught a sizzling line drive and threw for a force at third and double play, and Huston struck out the next batter to keep Lincoln within 2-0.

A line drive double-play turned by Ashton also stopped North Medford in the first inning. And Ashton's diving stop in the fifth on Williams' RBI hit also saved a run.

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Lincoln shortstop Morgan Portlock, a sophomore, eyes a fastball from North Medford ace Maryssa Becker.Muir's players took their cuts against Becker, but the Cardinals never got a runner past first base, other than in the fourth inning.

"Against a pitcher like her, you have to choose one side of the plate or one area of the strike zone, and take your swings," Muir said.

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Lincoln's junior left fielder, Kaitlin Larvick, dives for a shallow North Medford hit in the sixth inning Tuesday at Jesuit.Becker, who threw 103 pitches, improved to 18-1 this season. In four playoff games, she has allowed eight hits and five walks, with 40 strikeouts.

"I played with her on an Adidas Futures team," Huston said, "and she has good spin. We just hadn't seen pitching like that."

North Medford has outscored its playoff foes — Sunset, Southridge, Central Catholic and Lincoln — 29-0.by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Lincoln softball coach Dennis Muir rallies his team and tells them to get the two runs they need to tie North Medford in the bottom of the seventh inning.

by: COURTESY OF JOHN LARIVIERE - Lincoln High seniors Courtney Huston (left) and Morgan Ashton walk off the field at Jesuit on Tuesday after the Cardinals' season ended at 25-4 in the Class 6A semifinals.