Southridge learns lessons against North Medford

In a year or two, when Kalee Mabry is lighting up 6A teams in the state playoffs from the circle, when Kylie Myers is crushing the balls to the gap and Mahaila Nieslanik is inhaling hard groundballs at third, the Southridge softball team will look back and laugh at its 7-0 season-ending loss to North Medford.

Unfortunately there wasn't a whole lot of chuckling going on May 22, when the Skyhawks received an up-close and personal view of what a state championship team looks like.

The Black Tornado split Southridge in the second round of the 6A state playoffs as the Skyhawks committed a duo of errors that handed North Medford three of four runs. Against the top-ranked team in 6A, in a game Southridge needed to be just about perfect in, those were particularly damaging. North Medford's mashers hit the ball hard, which put pressure on the Skyhawks' young defense and led to mistakes.

Southridge scraped together a collection of hits against first-team all-state selection Maryssa Becker but couldn't collectively string together the consecutive hits that generate rallies and momentum. Becker had six strikeouts in a three-hit complete game outing.

“There are three top pitchers in the state, and she's one of them,” said Southridge softball coach Wilbur Charters. "She's not unhittable, but she deserves to be where she is. She did a good job yesterday, we just couldn't get any hits back-to-back."

The last few games Southridge piled up several backward strikeouts, watching strike three pass through the zone without pulling the trigger at the dish, but they didn't do that against Becker. Several players had 10- or 11-pitch at-bat clashes with the Louisville commit, entrenching themselves in the dirt and not giving into Becker's reputation. Sophomore second baseman Sophie Herman fought off offerings and elevated Becker's pitch count during the contest. Mabry had two hits, and senior Shae Nelson added a knock of her own.

“They were battling, we just couldn't get anything around those hits or get anybody around the bases,” said Charters. “If they're battling, then they're focusing in and zeroing in on the pitch. I wasn't unhappy with that at all. It's a lot better than watching the third strike go by.”

The right-handed Mabry started in the circle, and fellow freshman Morgan Penn came on in relief, after Mabry struggled a bit against North Medford's veteran-laden lineup. After four innings, the reigning state champs led 7-0 and didn't allow a Skyhawk baserunner past first base. Despite the tough loss, playing the Black Tornado was a learning experience, not just for Penn and Mabry, but the 13 other underclassmen projected to return to Southridge next season. Defeat is never easy, and it's never enjoyable, especially when a ball club has a nice five-hour bus ride home to contemplate what went off target as a team. Charters wants his team to remember that when they're sweating and toiling away on various softball fields this summer on the ASA TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Southridge Skyhawks Cheyleen Manibusan makes contact with the ball against Aloha Warriors at Southridge High School. Manibusan is back next year for the Skyhawks.

“I want them to take away the bad taste it leaves in your mouth for losing in the second round,” said Charters. “Losing isn't fun, and hopefully, it gives them a little drive for coming out a little harder next year and being a little more focused, a little older, a little wiser and being able to compete that much better.”

The veteran skipper who's guided Southridge's program to the summit in the past says most of his kids play during the summer, and the ones who don't are easy to pick out. Hardly any high schools have summer teams anymore because ASA is so prevalent around the state. Games run nearly all summer until school starts, and for the Skyhawks, who played six freshmen, the next three months are vital in terms of TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Southridge Skyhawks third baseman Mahaila Nieslanik throws to first base against the Aloha Warriors.

Southridge wants to get where North Medford is currently, but it's going to take patience and a bunch of practice over the next year or so.

“We encourage all of our kids to play ASA, and for the most part, they do and get lots of games in,” said Charters. “It's a game of learning and it takes a lot of situational stuff to get better and understand how the game's played. We try to get them out on teams and keep playing.”

Penn, Mabry, Myers, Nieslanik, Payge Brown and Hayden Regalado make up what could be the foundation of something special, and Charters would know, having coached the Skyhawks' 2004 state championship team.

“This freshmen class is probably as talented a class as we've had in a long time,” said Charters. “I know next year we have some more pieces coming in, so they may still be young, but they're going to be OK.”

For Charters' two seniors, Nelson and outfielder Britney Bradley, it wasn't the way they wanted to conclude their final seasons at Southridge, but in no way does that take away from their careers. Both were first-team all-Metro selections as juniors and seniors for their offensive numbers and defensive capabilities. Each captain will hold a special place in Charters' mind when he looks back at this team. Nelson and Bradley were two of the better team leaders Charters has guided in quite some time.

“Out of the seniors we've had the past two years, these two were two of the best,” said Charters. “They're dedicated softball players with good passions for the game, and they were always on top of everything. I told them, 'Practice starts at 3 o'clock. If you're out there at 3, you're late.' But they were always out there ready to go and had the rest of the team ready. They never wavered from that all year long.” by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Southridge Skyhawks short stop Shae Nelson tags out Aloha Warriors Alexa Bailey. Nelson is one of two valuable seniors graduating for the Skyhawks.

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