Grizzlies eager 'to prove themselves'

The Ashland High baseball team is carrying so many streaks into the 2011 playoffs, coach Don Senestraro may need to deliver an anti-motivational speech in order to convince the Grizzlies that yes, they can lose.

Can, that is, but rarely do.

Ashland last stumbled back on March 31, when Roseburg clobbered the Grizzlies 15-5 in five innings. Since then, Ashland (23-1) has run off 17 straight wins, good enough to climb to No. 2 in the OSAA rankings heading into Thursday's second-round play-in game against Willamette (7-15).

The first pitch is scheduled to be thrown at 4:30 p.m. at North Mountain Park, where Ashland hasn't lost a playoff game since the 2009 state semifinals.

"Every game we play I worry about complacency," Senestraro said when asked about the temptation to look ahead to the round of 16. "When you're 23-1, what else is there to warn them about? That's what I keep telling you guys. They're the best team. It's not easy to go 23-1. It's tough to get up for every game, and I think that's a testament to them."

The winning streak is not the only impressive string Ashland will take into the postseason:

  • The Grizzlies have won 24 games in a row at North Mountain Park, where they're 54-2 since 2008.
  • They've advanced to the Class 5A state semifinals four years in a row, a run that includes two state championship game appearances and one state title (2008).
  • The Grizzlies have scored six runs or more in 14 consecutive games.
  • The Grizzlies have held eight of their last nine opponents to four runs or less and have outscored opponents a combined 241-89.

All those numbers seem to point to a quick and easy Thursday for Ashland, but Senestraro points out that the Wolverines hail from a tough conference, the Midwestern League, which also includes defending state champion North Eugene.

"We're going to approach this game like we approach every other game and give it all we've got," Senestraro said.

That means, among other things, that senior right-hander Brady Thomas will get the start. Thomas is 8-0 with a 1.38 ERA, four complete games and three shutouts.

Willamette, in contrast, is not streaking into the second-round matchup. The Wolverines, who are making their first playoff appearance since 2008, had lost seven games in a row before beating lowly Woodburn 3-1 in Monday's opening round. At 1-23, Woodburn is the undisputed anti-Ashland.

The Wolverines' most impressive win of the season may have been their 5-3 victory over 6A South Eugene (13-11) on April 20, but they also had good showings, albeit in losses, against both Marist — currently ranked fourth — and North Eugene.

Willamette finished fifth in the Midwestern.

Ashland is led by Thomas, and a take-no-prisoners lineup that's roughed up almost every pitcher that the Grizzlies have faced. Heading into their regular season finale at Henley, three of the top four hitters in Ashland's lineup — Ethan Schlecht, Billy Hansen and Brent Hegdahl — were hitting .500 or better and another (Evan Westhelle) was hitting .417.

The winner of Thursday's game advances to the final 16-team state tournament, which will be seeded using the OSAA's rankings.

"The guys, since (Legion ball ended), have been waiting for the playoffs to start," Senestraro said. "They're very excited to prove themselves."

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