'It's unreal'

Ashland High's Ian Kendall's life-long passion for the game has cultivated a successful first year of high school baseball and the most valuable player award in last weekend's American Legion A State Championship Tournament.

He batted .375 in the five games of the tournament. Not known for his power, Kendall hit four homers to lead the Pilot attack.

Born in Hollywood, Calif., Kendall picked up the game at a very young age, following in his mother's footsteps.

"Ever since I was like two or three I've been throwing balls around," said Kendall. "It just came to me. My mom was a baseball player."

The 15-year-old sophomore-to-be appreciates the game to the core and especially loves the little things that can often prove to be huge.

"Just playing with all your friends and getting out there playing on beautiful days ... I've just always loved it," Kendall said. "Everything ... double plays, hitting home runs, singles. Even walks are exciting because last game (versus Sunset Platt Electric in the State Championship game) we had a walk and it ended up being one of the biggest runs of our careers. I just love (playing baseball) and I'm going to try to do it as much as I can."

Kendall models his game after the legendary Willy Mays, his favorite baseball player of all-time.

"He's just an idol of mine," he said. "I've always loved to watch him play and see the highlight reels of him making a basket catch. He has always been a great hitter. (He) hit over 600 home runs but had a great average as well. I've always looked up to him."

Kendall's athleticism is not confined by the baseball diamond. He has tried his hand at a number of sports in his short life, and has excelled at nearly everything he has tried.

"I used to play soccer when I was younger," he said. "Then I just stopped playing that. I played football in middle school. My coaches want me to play football, but I haven't really found a love for it I guess. I've played baseball all my life and I love to golf and I play on the basketball team. I don't really think I play any other sports besides those."

Batting lead-off for the Ashland Pilots much of the summer, Kendall has quickly become an integral part of the squad. Kendall credits pitching coach Dave Sebrell with his improved hitting in recent months.

"(Sebrell) pitches probably about 400 or more pitches a day to all of us," Kendall said. "He's made me more disciplined at the plate. I don't get walked a lot. I need to work on that, But overall, I think I've gotten better at plate discipline and just seeing pitches."

Kendall has transitioned nicely from batting third for the freshman squad. He said he has struggled at times in changing his approach from power to patience.

"Lead-off hitter on this sort of team is different because you have to pitches and tell your teammates what the pitcher has," he said. "So I don't get to swing at the first pitch that I see a lot of the time because I feel like I want to see pitches for my teammates. But Coach (Don) Senestraro says that if I see a good pitch, I can swing at it. That gives me a little more confidence to go after some first pitches."

The left fielder's team-first attitude carries over to his goals as well. On the top of the list, he wants a varsity state championship.

"Last year we came pretty close in the varsity season, going to the semi-finals," he said. "But I wasn't really part of the team. I cheered them on and stuff, but hopefully in the next three years we'll have a really great program. Hopefully, we can pull out a state championship and be recognized as one of the better teams in all of Oregon. That's probably the biggest goal of mine."

Kendall hopes he can follow his passion to Corvallis one day, hoping he could play for the two-time defending NCAA Champion Oregon State Beavers.

"For a long time I've wanted to go to OSU because they have such a great baseball program," he said. "I've been to a couple of their camps and you can see how they develop players. Hopefully, I'll get chances to be on Oregon State and that's where I really want to go."

Coach Senestraro sees a lot of promise in the freshman and is looking forward to watching his progression in the coming years.

"If he works hard and becomes selective at the plate and works out in the off-season a little bit, I believe he's got the tools to be a Division I player," said Senestraro. "He's got tremendous bat speed and great strength in his wrists. He's a tremendously powerful hitter. Very quick bat. He's got a great arm. He's a good pitcher. I didn't even pitch him in Portland. He's got a great curve ball."

Kendall enjoys pitching and claimed it was once his favorite position. However, an arm injury in the middle of last season has set him back as a hurler.

"I've been doing physical training to get it back to where it was and now it's a lot better," Kendall said. "Our pitching staff is great. I can't pitch seven innings and all of our other pitchers can. They do a great job at it too. Pitching, it'll come in time. I just need to get my arm back to what it was."

Set to go with the Pilots to regionals in Alaska next week, Kendall is very excited to gain the experience.

"It's unreal," he said. "It's just doing one of my favorite things, going to a different place that I've never been to and getting to see other players from all over the west coast. To see how they play and see how they compete is going to be really fun. I hope that we do really well in the tournament and I think we will."

He said he has never played on such a big stage as what awaits the Pilots next week and it has been years since a team of his has tasted anything close to this type of post-season success.

"The furthest our team has ever gotten was 9 and 10-year-old all-stars," he said. "We got third in state and we went to Washington. Other than that, we've only been to the district championships a couple times. But I've never been to this level of play before. So I think it's going to be a really good experience."

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