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One bad inning. That’s all it took for the visiting Black Tornado from 20th-ranked North Medford (13-14, 6-9 Southwest Conference) to pull off the surprising upset over No. 13 Canby (15-11, 5-7 Three Rivers League) on Monday — derailing one of the Cougs’ most promising softball seasons in many years, and ending the program’s 6A era on a sour note.
The Tornado scored six of their seven runs in the third inning en route to a 7-4 victory at Canby in the opening round of the OSAA state playoffs Monday, avenging an early-season loss in which the Cougs beat them 4-0 on their home turf.
Canby coughed up two errors and a pair of hits to load the bases for Gabbi Urban, who promptly cleared them by driving a three-RBI double down the left-field line.
Another error and a sacrifice fly would cost the Cougs two more runs before they managed to escape the fateful frame, trailing 6-0.
Star junior Ava Carroll, who went 4-4 on the day, got Canby on the board in the bottom of the third, driving Madison Bigej home on a hard line drive into center field. But a quick-turn double play by North ended the rally almost as soon as it began, and the Tornado would get the run back with a score in the fourth.
The Cougs got another chance in the bottom of the fifth, when pitcher Abigail Loomis drove in Kenna Kraft and Carroll with a hard ground ball to third and a North Medford error.
In the next at-bat, Natalie Just brought home courtesy runner Chloe Moll on a line drive to bring the Cougars back within three — but they would get no closer. Still, Cougar head coach Ty Kraft was proud of his team’s resilience.
“One thing about our team is we never give up and keep fighting all the way to the end,” Kraft said. “I always appreciate our efforts every game, we just couldn’t push runs home. We left too many runners on base and needed a few more timely hits to have a chance to win that ball game.”
The Cougars had several chances to inch even closer in the closing innings. Their three-run fifth inning could have been more, as Canby left three runners on base, failing to convert on a bases-loaded situation with one out.
In the seventh inning, both Kaylee Allen and Chloe Moll walked to get on base, but the Cougars were unable to bring them home.
That inability to close was anathema for the Cougars down the stretch. It was the sixth straight loss for a Canby team which started the season 13-2, including a 10-game winning streak and climbing as high as No. 2 in the OSAA rankings, but finished 2-9 amid brutal league play.
Over the past few weeks, the Cougars have been playing without catcher Ella Kiehl and first baseman Brooke Herren due to injuries and illness. Missing two of his reliable starters, Kraft called up several of his JV players to pick up the slack.
“Missing them definitely affects us,” Kraft told the Current. “Our starters that are out bring a lot of experience to our defense and help us push runs in offensively. I am very proud of Madi Bigej for stepping in wherever we needed her all season.”
Bigej was behind the dish for Canby on Monday, and picked up two key hits to keep the Cougars alive.
The Black Tornado will advance to face fifth-seeded McNary (22-5, 12-2 Mountain Valley Conference), which dispatched Grants Pass with little difficulty in their opening-round tilt, winning 13-3.
Declining enrollment fueled Canby’s drop down to 5A next year, where it will be one of the largest schools in its classification and league — just the opposite of where it typically falls in 6A and the exceptionally tough Three Rivers League.
It marks the end of an era for Canby softball, a perennial playoff contender since the ’80s and winner of the state title in 1994 and 2001 at 4A — which was the largest classification at that time.
But recent years have brought harder times for the storied program. While the Cougs have continued to make the postseason, Monday marked their first home playoff contest in a decade.
Canby has not made it out of the first round since 2011, when they hosted and defeated Central Catholic before falling to Tualatin in the quarterfinals. However, head coach Ty Kraft sees promise in the coming year.
“We are excited to return seven starting juniors next year,” Kraft said, “Including first-team all-league Ava Carroll, first-team all-league McKenna Kraft, first-team all-league Natalie Just and second-team all-league Ella Kiehl.”
With loads of talent moving down to Canby’s new 5A Northwest Conference, be ready for a Canby softball team hungry to avenge this year’s playoff loss.
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