McNary rallies for first round victory

Kate Ronning (left) celebrates with Alexa Cepeda (right) after McNary records the final out in their 5-4 victory against North Medford in the first round of the OSAA Playoffs. Cepeda hit a three-run double to give the Celtics the lead in the bottom of the sixth (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

After trailing for the entirety of the game, Alexa Cepeda had a chance to be a hero for the Celtics softball team in the bottom of the sixth. And the McNary center fielder took full advantage of the opportunity. 

Cepeda came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded and two outs with the Celtics trailing 4-2. After working the count to full and fouling off four pitches, Cepeda lined a three-run double to the wall in left field, bringing in the go-ahead score and allowing McNary to come away with a 5-4 win over North Medford in their first round playoff game on Monday, May 21. 

“It felt awesome. I love being there for my team and I love that I was the one to be in that position to help us pull it off,” Cepeda said.

McNary head coach Kevin Wise added: “When we get to the playoffs, Alexa is one of those kids that turns it up another notch.”

After suffering an early exit in last year’s postseason, this McNary crew needed some extra resiliency to make sure they didn’t suffer that same fate this time around. 

The Celtics found themselves in a 2-0 hole after two innings as North Medford’s small-ball approach turned out to be successful for them early on against McNary pitcher Faith Danner.

Danner had to deal with a lot of traffic on the bases throughout her complete-game outing. But the star-senior always found ways to minimize damage as she only gave up three earned runs, despite surrendering 11 hits.

“I pitch a lot better in pressure situations,” Danner said. “I’m able to focus in pretty well and I don’t let mental stuff get to me.” 

“I was not ready for this to be my last game in this uniform.”

The Black Tornadoes struck again in the top of the third on an RBI-single by Shahar Miles to put North Medford up 3-0. McNary, however, was able to respond in the bottom half of the inning. 

After an infield single from Cepeda and a walk from Abbi Covalt, McNary shortstop Taylor Ebbs ripped a base hit up the middle that scored Cepeda from first to cut the lead to 3-1. 

Both teams went scoreless in the fourth inning, but North Medford pushed another one across in the top of the fifth thanks to an RBI-single to center field by Lauren Berry.

The ball got to the wall on the base hit due to a misplay by Cepeda in center field. Berry pushed the envelope and tried to make it to third, but a perfect throw from Cepeda nailed the North Medford shortstop at third base.

Cepeda would make another rally-saving play in the following frame.

With runners on second and third and two outs, Grace Johnson roped a line drive into left center field that would have easily scored both runners, but Cepeda made a fantastic leaping catch to get the Celtics out of trouble.

“We always pride ourselves on our hitting, but defense is the thing that really keeps us in the game especially when it’s a close game,” Cepeda said.

As the game entered the bottom of the sixth, McNary needed an offensive spark. And they got it to start the frame thanks to the effort from Danner, their senior leader.

Danner, who was leading off the inning, swung a the first pitch she saw and hit a hard grounder to short. 

Although she isn’t the fleetest of foot, she tore down the line and just beat the throw for an infield hit. 

“I’m pretty slow. Everyone is always worried that I’m not going to make it to first,” Danner said jokingly. “That might have been the first time all season I beat out a grounder, so it definitely got everyone pumped up.”

Although the next two batters were retired, McNary kept the inning alive thanks a walk from Kaylee Schwab and an RBI-single from Hannah Ebner to cut the lead to 4-2. Nine-batter Kamryn Miller was walked on the next at-bat to load the bases, bringing Cepeda to the plate.

“I knew I didn’t want to walk. I wanted to hit the ball and get those runs in to get ahead,” Cepeda said. “I was pretty nervous.”

Cepeda’s nerves didn’t show at all as she got on top of a 3-2 rise-ball and hit a laser into left field. Once Miller raced around the bases and scored from first on the play, all the momentum belonged to the Celtics. 

In the top of the seventh, Danner pitcher a perfect 1-2-3 frame to send McNary to victory.

“When our defense is stepping up and Faith is pitching well and it’s a close game, we’re never out of it, and we showed that tonight,” Wise said. “Every kid in our lineup has the ability to do something for us.”