Ashland Little Leaguers brace for powerhouse Murrayhill

Last year, Sean Gallagher took a think-ahead approach to his state tournament pitching rotation, opting to limit Ashland's two best pitchers in the first round and gamble that the team would survive and thus be fully armed for the semifinals.

The strategy backfired when Ashland took a 6-1 opening day loss, so this year Gallagher isn't taking any chances, a decision which was made a little easier when he learned of his team's quarterfinal opponent in the 11-12-year-old Little League all-star baseball tournament: Oregon powerhouse and perennial favorite Murrayhill of Beaverton.

"The way I see it, this is the championship game," said Gallagher, who guided Ashland's all-star team to the state championship game last year. "If we can knock out Murrayhill in the first round, we have a great chance of doing something no other Ashland team has done, and that's win state."

Ashland and Murrayhill, which has won 10 of the last 16 state tournaments, square off in one of four quarterfinal games at 3 p.m. today at Centennial Middle School in Gresham. The winner will play either Pendleton or Sheldon in the semifinals Tuesday, while the loser will fall into the loser's bracket of the double-elimination tournament and play a loser-out game Sunday night.

Though Ashland would love to shock Murrayhill today, it probably wouldn't panic in the event of a loss. That's because Ashland recently excelled in an extended do-or-die situation, climbing all the way out of the loser's bracket after an opening day loss to win the District 6 tournament in Tulelake. In the championship game, Ashland pitcher Kellar Edwards — the only current Ashland all-star who also played on last year's all-star team — threw a no-hitter to help Ashland claim a 4-0 championship-clinching victory over Klamath Falls American.

Edwards will start on the mound today against Murrayhill and says Ashland will not be intimidated.

"I feel pretty confident," he said, "because our baseball teams aren't usually highly respected, so (Murrayhill's) probably going to come out all cocky and stuff, thinking that they can just blow us out. But if we're prepared, I think we can beat them."

"We just kind of feel like it's our turn," added Ashland catcher John Ropp. "Last year we got second in state, so this year we feel like we can win it. We need to beat Murrayhill right off the bat and we think we can. We all want to play them first so we can show everybody in the tournament that we're ready to play."

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