Grizzlies ace first test

Power and precision. Ashland High pitcher Ian Kendall usually has both. On Tuesday, one out of two was enough for the Grizzlies.

Kendall pitched six innings of no-hit ball and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning as third-ranked Ashland beat seventh-ranked Bend 3-0 in the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs at North Mountain Park.

The victory advances the Grizzlies (22-5) to the state quarterfinals for the fourth year in a row. They will face 10th-ranked Thurston (17-9), the defending state champions, Friday in Springfield, in a rematch of the 2008 state championship game that Ashland won.

Ashland scored on a fielder's choice in the first, rode Kendall over the next three innings, then broke the game open by tacking on two more runs on three hits and an error in the fifth. Billy Hansen, who went 3-for-4 at the plate, and Luke Baldrica each belted RBI singles to help Ashland pull away.

Kendall was three outs away from tossing a no-hitter before Lucas Stone took the mound for a 1-2-3 seventh, completing a combined no-hitter against a Bend squad that scored 16 runs in its first-round win over Liberty.

Kendall (8-2) was far from perfect. He issued six walks, two in the fourth, and hit a batter, but made up for those mistakes by striking out seven Lava Bears, mostly with his rocket fastball. He also clutched up when he had to, coaxing Steven Barrett into a 4-3 groundout with the bases loaded in the fourth as a handful of Major League scouts looked on, radar guns in hand.

"I didn't have my best day, but when the time came and I needed to step up I feel like I did a decent job of that," said Kendall, who has given up two earned runs in 51 innings.

Bend starting pitcher Chase Clair used a hard curve and decent fastball to keep the Grizzlies off balance. He allowed three runs on eight hits and walked five without a strikeout in 51/3 innings before Travis Wiest took over with one out in the sixth.

Clair got plenty of help from the Bend infield, which turned three double plays. The Lava Bears also picked off two Ashland base runners — Clair surprised Hall in the third, and Bend catcher Kenny Norgaard gunned down Brady Thomas to end the fourth.

"Our guys are competitors, they have been all year," Bend head coach Dan Weber said. "They're going to battle, they're going to scrap, they're going to do everything that they possibly can to try and eke out a hit or a walk, or something to get something started. We were able to get some guys on today, we were just not able to find some holes. Tip your hat to (Kendall) today, he did a great job on the mound."

Ashland looked like it might break away early after leadoff hitter Nick Hall started Ashland's first inning with a double and Hansen followed with a hard single. A walk to Kendall loaded the bases for Stone, who grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Hall scored on the throw to first, but that was it for Ashland until the fifth.

The Lava Bears' best shot at pulling off the shocker came in the fourth, when Kendall got the first two batters out, walked the next two then plunked No. 7 batter Jonah Koski to load the bases. That brought up Barrett, a senior center fielder. He took the first pitch for a ball, then hit a lazy grounder directly to Ashland second-baseman Ethan Schlecht.

Ashland head coach Don Senestraro said his decision to leave Kendall in was a no-brainer.

"Not close," he said, when asked how close he was to yanking his senior ace in the fourth, "because at any time he can throw three bullets down there and we're outta there."

The Lava Bears (16-12) were 0-for-19 at the plate four days after racking up 18 hits against Liberty.

"(Kendall's) a good pitcher and he shut us down today," Clair said. "We were hitting them hard sometimes and they just weren't dropping. It just happens in baseball, I guess."

The Grizzlies finally got to Clair in the fifth, thanks in part to Bend's only defensive miscue of the game. Scarminach grounded to third to lead off the inning, but was safe on Grant Newton's throwing error. Hall then bunted Scarminach to second to set up Hansen, who capped a nine-pitch at-bat with an RBI single to left-center.

"(Clair) was keeping us off balance and I finally had a fastball to hit and I just tried to put a good swing on it," Hansen said.

Two batters later Baldrica, whose availability was in question only hours before the first pitch, lined a single to left that scored Hansen.

The Grizzlies now hit the road, where they are 10-3 this season, to play a Thurston squad that's coming off an emotional extra-inning win over sixth-ranked Lebanon. The Colts eliminated the Warriors 7-3 in eight innings.

"Right now we're just looking to play error-free, consistent baseball," said Hall, one of two current Grizzlies (Kendall was the other) who started in the '08 state championship-clinching win over Thurston. "Regardless of our opponent, I think we need to take care of what we can control and the rest will take care of itself."

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Ashland 100 020 x — 3 8 0

Clair, Wiest (6) and Norgaard; Kendall, Stone (7) and Scarminach. W — Kendall (8-2). L — Clair. 2B — A: Hall.

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