'All out. All game. All season'

The Ashland High Grizzlies could rest easy Tuesday night as they prepare for the second round of the OSAA 5A baseball championships against The Dalles Wahtonka, but that's not what coach Don Senestraro wants.

What Senestraro and the Grizzlies want today at North Mountain Park is printed clearly on baby blue tee-shirts littered around the red jerseys, ball caps and fly balls of Monday's practice: "All out. All game. All season."

The Grizzlies (24-1) have lived by that philosophy this year, scorching the competition with an aggressive hitting lineup and an experienced, crafty ace on the mound in 6-foot-5 senior Brady Thomas.

"It's nice to know we've got (Thomas) around," said Senestraro. "He's going to throw strikes, put the ball in play and avoid walks."

Almost every year the Grizzlies manage to trot out a dominate pitcher and Thomas has proven to be no exception.

"(Thomas) is definitely a location guy," Senestraro said. "He's not overpowering, but he locates his fastball inside and out and can use his curve to keep (other teams) honest "… if he can throw his change-up for a strike it works really well for him."

Things have been working pretty well for Thomas since finishing last season with a 7-1 record behind future Tampa Bay Rays draft pick Ian Kendall. After a 3-0 Grizzly loss to North Eugene in last year's state championship final Thomas went to work playing for Ashland's American Legion team, the Pilots. He eventually led the Pilots to their first-ever regional championship.

The work paid off and the kid who's been throwing darts since Little League is ready to keep the Grizzlies string of four consecutive state semifinals appearances alive.

Now, Thomas is poised to pitch the Grizzlies to their third state championship game appearance in five seasons.

"We look at who we play one opponent at a time," said Thomas, who finished the regular season 8-0 with a 1.38 ERA. "At this time of year we've got to play our best every game "… when we play our best we are a really good team."

Added Senestraro: "Don't know much (about The Dalles Wahtonka). We prepare for each game like it's a state championship. That's how we do things. Every day we prepare like this is the state championship game."

This year's Grizzlies appear to have the experience, talent and chemistry make it that far again. Thomas counts about eight players who have played together since they were 10-year-old Little Leaguers. Considering they've played together for about eight years now, unspoken chemistry is a given.

"You can trust every person on the field to make a play 100 percent of the time," he said. "I don't think of myself any higher than these guys and I couldn't do that without them making plays."

"They're a pretty loose group," added Senestraro. "They've been to four straight semifinals, they've been with the Pilots winning state and regionals "… They're very resilient. They never give up and continue to battle."

The playoffs showcase the best of the best in the state and the Grizzlies expect nothing different this season. Even though Ashland smashed its way through the regular season, the Grizzlies are likely to experience a little adversity in the playoffs, according to Senestraro.

"I expect adversity," he said. "But, I also expect them to handle it well. They always have."

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