Grizz earn clutch win

Brady Thomas may be listed on Ashland's roster as standing 6-foot-2, but he's actually 6-5, and the Grizzlies needed every last inch of him Friday to dodge a Grants Pass bullet.

Thomas made a leaping, off-balance catch in left field to rob Anthony Cantiello of a sure extra-base hit that would have extended the game and put the tying run on second or third base, then whipped the ball in to help complete a game-ending double play.

The thrilling finish secured a 5-2 comeback victory for the Grizzlies, who survived Thomas' worst outing of the season on the mound and overcame a 2-0 deficit to earn their third win in a row and 47th in their last 49 home games at North Mountain Park.

Thomas held the Cavemen to two runs on two hits in six innings, but he also walked five Grants Pass batters and plunked five more. The senior right-hander came through in the clutch, however. He stared down a bases-loaded jam in the fourth, surrendering two runs before striking out two Cavemen to keep the Grizzlies close. And he recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the sixth after Grants Pass, down 3-2, put the tying run on second base.

Of course, Thomas saved the Grizzlies' greatest escape for the seventh, after he was pulled following 102 pitches in favor of Max Anderson. Anderson, another senior righty, struck out the first batter he faced, but ran into trouble when Casey Miller followed with a double off the wall. Anderson then walked Matt Cole, setting the stage for Cantiello, whose line drive single to right in the fourth was the first of the day for the Cavemen.

This time, Cantiello pulverized Anderson's 2-1 offering. Thomas turned one way, then the other, all while backpedaling, before finally springing up just in time to stab the ball. His throw and the subsequent relay easily beat Miller back to second for the force out, and the Grizzlies (9-1) went high-five wild celebrating their first win over a Class 6A team this season.

"It was just a straight line drive so I had a hard time reading it, and I kind of froze," Thomas said of the final play. "Then I realized how hard it was hit and I almost didn't make that play. I knew it was going to be close."

"I thought it was going to be 5-4, runner at second base," Ashland head coach Don Senestraro said. "The guy hit it solid."

After Grants Pass (3-9) broke the scoreless tie with two runs in the top of the fourth Ashland quickly tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Brent Hegdahl's double down the third-base line brought home Billy Hansen, who led-off with a single, and Hegdahl ended up scoring on Thomas' sacrifice fly to center.

"My first at bat he got me on the fastball, so I went up there ready for the fastball," Hegdahl said of his clutch hit. "The pitch I hit was a change-up, I was a little in front of it, but I just wanted to hit the ball."

The Grizzlies jumped ahead for good in the fifth when Hansen's single to left scored Taylor Humphrey from second.

Hansen was 2-for-3 and Hegdahl 1-for-2 with a walk and one run scored to lead the Grizzlies' offense. AJ Adams cranked Ashland's only other extra-base hit, a double in the third to put runners at second and third with one out. But he was picked off moments later, and Ashland leadoff hitter Taylor Humphrey flew out to leave Evan Westhelle stranded at third.

Ashland gained some breathing room in the sixth thanks to a costly error by the Cavemen. With runners on second and third and two out, Anderson hit a hard grounder to Grants Pass shortstop Matt Cole. The ball ricocheted off Cole's glove and into center field as Jake McCoy and Jake Scarminach raced home. That error helped spoil a solid outing by Grants Pass pitcher Tyler Bennett, who struck out three, walked one and allowed five runs, but only one earned, in six innings.

"Tyler's pitched great for us all year and has nothing to show for it," Grants Pass head coach Brian Diatte said. "We haven't done anything to help him offensively when he's on the mound. Today, our defense, I felt let us down a little bit."

Thomas retired seven straight batters before running into trouble in the fourth. He issued back-to-back walks to Miller and Cole, and Cantiello loaded the bases with his single. Thomas then plunked Josh Robinson and walked Myles Baida on five pitches to give the Cavemen a 2-0 lead. With Anderson warmed up and ready in the Ashland bullpen Senestraro considered pulling Thomas, but decided to give his ace another chance. Thomas came through, striking out Cameron Mathews with a full-count fastball, coaxing a fielder's choice ground ball out of Chase Van Ess then striking out Nathan Etheridge on four pitches.

"I wanted (Thomas) to be able to fight back and show his mental toughness on the mound, see if he could get us out of that situation," Senestraro said. "I went to the mound and I told him that I really wanted to win the game and I was going to bring in (Anderson) if he couldn't get it done and wanted to see if he would step up, and he did."

"I think it was just an off day," Thomas said. "I was giving it all I could and it just wasn't doing it. But I could really trust my defense, and it really helps to know that I can just throw strikes and my defense will back me up."

Grants Pass 000 200 0 — 2 2 3

Ashland 000 212 0 — 5 5 0

Bennett and Cantiello; Thomas, Anderson (7) and Scarminach. W — Thomas (4-0). L — Bennett. 2B — GP: Miller; A: Hegdahl, Adams.

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