Grizzlies focused on second-round playoff opponent

There will be no sneaking into the playoffs this time around.

A year after squeezing into the OSAA Class 5A state tournament then dancing all the way to the semifinals as a "who's that," the Ashland High baseball team enters the 2008 postseason with firm credentials. The No. 3-ranked Grizzlies (24-2) won the American Legion A state championship last summer, have won 17 games in a row and are undefeated (20-0) against 5A teams.

Ashland hosts seventh-ranked St. Helens (20-9) in a second-round playoff game Tuesday at North Mountain Park. The game is tentatively scheduled to be broadcast live on KTMT (580-AM).

More impressive than the streak is the way Ashland's won, with fantastic pitching and mistake-free defense. The Grizzlies have allowed just 46 runs, far and away the best mark in 5A baseball. They have a 1.05 team ERA and a .964 fielding percentage. In fact, their 16-0 romp through the Southern Sky Conference begs the question: has life for Ashland in 2008 been a little too easy?

Ashland head coach Don Senestraro doesn't think so.

"I think it's a good thing," he said. "Nobody likes to lose. I tell you what, these kids just keep getting it done. Right now, I don't think we're complacent."

Senestraro expects the Grizzlies' fortitude to be tested right out of the gate by the Lions, who are better than their No. — seed out of the Northwest Oregon Conference suggests. That's because St. Helens had a league title in the bag before a pair of late-season forfeits gave the top seed to Sherwood. The Lions rebounded with an 11-9 first-round win at Willamette, setting up one of the more intriguing second-round matchups.

"I went and watched them play Friday and they're a good, solid team and we're going to have to play our best game to beat them," Senestraro said. "They can hit, they play defense and they have good pitching. They're very comparable to us. That's why we're going to have to play our best game and hopefully it doesn't come down to an error."

Starting on the mound for Ashland will be senior ace Sam Gaviglio (9-0), who has a 0.55 ERA and averages nine strikeouts per seven innings. If Gaviglio tires, Senestraro is leaning toward going to another starter, Charlie Sebrell. That move could limit Ashland's options for a potential quarterfinal road game Friday against the NorthEugene-Corvallis winner, but the Grizzlies' bullpen is loaded with talent &

neither Tyler Killeen nor Ian Kendall allowed a single earned run in league play &

and Senestraro says he won't hesitate to use it.

"I have 100 percent confidence in all my (pitchers)," he said.

Offensively, Ashland is batting .348, its best team average since assistant coach John Schroeder started keeping track nine years ago (that includes the Bill Rowe-led Grizzlies of 2002). Leading the way is senior shortstop Owen Baldrica, who's batting .491 with 30 RBIs and four home runs. Hayden Miller is batting .500, leadoff hitter Max Gordon is batting .440 and Gaviglio is at .357 with 18 RBIs.

As potent as that lineup has been, however, the Grizzlies expect pitching and defense to be the key to their 2008 playoff run.

"Coach Senestraro says that defense wins championships and offense determines by how much," Ashland catcher Lewis Sebrell said. "You can hit all those triples and all those home runs, but when it comes to that one-run game you have to put down the bunt to get that guy over.

"The teams that execute the small things are the teams that you are going to see in the state championship."

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.

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