Grizzlies Grounded

When it was over, Brady Thomas and Max Anderson stood on the mound together, soaking up their last few moments of high school baseball.

Thomas, Anderson and the rest of the Ashland Grizzlies figured the time for reflection would be next week at Volcanoes Stadium.

Taylor Burner made sure the Grizzlies didn't make it that far.

Jacob Stitzel scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the top of the seventh and Burner finished off a complete game in the bottom of the inning as West Albany pulled out a 7-5 come-from-behind victory over Ashland in the Class 5A state quarterfinals Friday at North Mountain Park.

The Grizzlies (25-2) jumped on Burner in the first inning, but the senior lefty limited Ashland to two runs on six hits the rest of the way, carrying the Bulldogs into the semifinals for the third time in four years. West Albany (21-7) will face Sherwood on Tuesday for a spot in the championship game.

Ashland was gunning for its fifth straight semifinals appearance but fell one win short after suffering its first loss since March 31 — a span of 20 games. The loss also snapped the Grizzlies' 26-game home winning streak.

"We're obviously proud of what we did, but we're disappointed at the same time because our No. 1 goal is a state championship and nothing less," Anderson said. "I'm proud of everyone and everybody's proud of each other. We had a great year, we just couldn't find it on the defensive end today."

Down 3-0 after the first inning, West Albany got back into the game when Jackson Ruckert belted a two-run single in the second.

Even Westhelle's RBI single to center gave Ashland a 4-2 lead heading into the third, but the Bulldogs answered again. They cut the lead to one on Tanner Hall's single to right in the fourth that brought home Harry Reid, then leapfrogged Ashland in the fifth when Nick Lebengood hammered an RBI double and eventually scored on Jesse Trader's sacrifice fly.

Down 5-4, Ashland came back to tie the game in the sixth when substitute A.J. Adams made the most of his first at-bat of the game, pummeling Burner's 1-0 offering to right-center for a double. Pinch runner Lee Dodds stole third, then scored on Billy Hansen's infield single to short.

The Bulldogs used their speed on the basepaths, and a leadoff single by Stitzel, to take the lead for good in the seventh. After his line drive to right, Stitzel, a senior left fielder, stole second, advanced to third on Westhelle's fielding error at second and scored when Christian Morrison's high fastball sailed over the glove of catcher Jake Scarminach.

After reaching on the error, Lebengood motored all the way to third on the wild pitch and scored on Trader's slap single that beat Ashland's drawn-in infield.

"They had shown some tendencies to vacate a little early on showing bunt, so we went to the slap there to open up some holes," West Albany coach Don Lien said. "It paid off."

Down two runs, Ashland still appeared to be in position to rally with its 4-5-6 hitters due up and Burner tiring. But the West Albany ace, who threw 20 pitches in Wednesday's win over Hood River Valley and "about 120" Friday, looked like a new man in the close-out inning. With the West Albany fan base cheering every strike, Burner struck out cleanup hitter Brent Hegdahl on three pitches, induced a ground out by Scarminach and finished the Grizzlies off by overpowering Thomas on three pitches.

"I had a little extra on everything (in the seventh)," said Burner, who struck out nine with one walk. "I was a little excited so I felt like it was not even the first inning."

"The way (Burner) finished, it was 'Amen,'" Lien said. "I thought whoever was going to be able to keep their ace out there longer was probably going to win this battle."

The Bulldogs celebrated the tournament's biggest upset so far with a pile-up on the first-base line. Ashland entered the postseason ranked No. 2 in the final OSAA RPI standings; West Albany was No. 9.

Ashland entered the game ranked second in the state in runs scored and looked like it would have another big day at the plate while staggering Burner in the first inning. Taylor Humphrey led off the game with a single to right, Hansen followed with a single to left and Ethan Schlecht reached on a perfect bunt down the third-base line to load the bases. Hegdahl made Burner pay with a sacrifice fly to right-center that would have scored two if not for Ruckert's sliding catch. After Scarminach reached on an E6, Thomas came through with Ashland's most significant clutch hit of the day, a two-run chopper that glanced off the glove of West Albany first baseman Cody James.

Normally, three runs would have been enough with Thomas on the mound. But the senior right-hander struggled with his curve ball, and the Bulldogs hit just enough fastballs to sneak back in. He struck out three and walked five in 61/3 innings.

"I told them when we came into the playoffs that we needed to score eight to nine runs to win," Ashland head coach Don Senestraro said. "I didn't know if our pitching would hold up, and these guys could hit the ball. I didn't feel good only being up 3-1 (in the third)."

The loss marked the end of high school ball for 10 Ashland seniors, including four starters. It was a group that enjoyed almost enormous success at Ashland, including a championship game appearance last season and an American Legion A Northwest Regional championship last summer.

"I'm very proud of what these kids accomplished," Senestraro said. "There's a lot of sad feelings right now, but like we've told them all along, 'If you don't feel sad right now then you haven't bought into the program.' I'm OK that they're sad. They love each other and it's a good thing."

West Albany 020 120 2 — 7 7 2

Ashland 301 001 0 — 5 10 3

Burner and Lebengood; Thomas, Morrison (7), Flynn (7) and Scarminach. W — Burner (10-2). L — Thomas (8-1). 2B — WA: Lebengood, Trader; A: Adams.

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