Since Ashland High's conference schedule, thanks to the latest OSAA reclassification, has been whittled down to just three games, the Grizzlies will just have to settle for racking up the nonleague wins.
They're settling, all right — over and over again. Against 6A schools as well as 5As, the Grizzlies just keep rolling.
Sophomore right-hander Jaime Flynn held Crater to three runs in 62/3 innings and Billy Hansen and Ethan Schlecht combined for five hits, including two doubles, as Ashland earned its third straight win over a 6A team and ninth straight overall, 7-3, Thursday at North Mountain Park.
Flynn struck out four and walked one in his longest varsity outing of the season. He allowed just four hits, including a bizarre inside-the-park home run by Andrew Tracy in the sixth that cut Ashland's lead to 5-3.
But the Grizzlies (15-1) bounced back by scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth and turned away Crater's last-gasp rally in the seventh when closer Christian Morrison got Bryce Crawford to fly out to deep center with two on and two out.
The victory sends the Grizzlies flying into their final 5A Southern Oregon Hybrid showdown of the season Saturday at Eagle Point. Ashland, which beat Eagle Point 6-0 on March 30, needs only to split the doubleheader to secure the league's automatic berth to the state playoffs.
"We're just looking ahead to our next practice right now," Schlecht said. "We want to play our best ball every day and get better every day, so that's what we try to do. We feel good, we feel confident."
Crater lost for the seventh time in its last eight games to fall to 6-10.
Against the Comets, the Grizzlies used a familiar recipe to feast on another big-school program: solid pitching, smooth defense and timely hitting.
Flynn, another young Ashland ace waiting his turn, threw 59 of his 92 pitches for strikes and retired 12 of the first 15 batters he faced. Ashland's defense did not commit an error. And the Grizzlies' offense came through with eight hits, including three with runners in scoring position.
Hansen was 3-for-3 with a double and two RBIs, Schlecht was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI and Lee Dodds helped the Grizzlies put the Comets away by crunching a two-bagger of his own in the sixth before scoring on a wild pitch.
Crater starter Matt Preston lasted only 12/3 innings before coach Jay Campbell pulled him. Hansen crushed Preston's last pitch to left-center for an RBI double and a 3-0 Ashland lead.
Chris Palmer pitched the next 22/3 innings for the Comets and fared much better, holding the Grizzlies to two runs, one earned, on two hits. Andrew Tracy took over with one out in the fifth and surrendered two runs on two hits in the final 12/3 innings.
The Comets didn't offer much run support. The two-through-five batters in their lineup went a combined 1-for-14 at the plate.
"(Flynn) was able to mix it up and keep us off balance a little bit," Campbell said. "We let a lot of fastballs go, and a couple guys swung at curveballs first pitch, and usually if you do that you're setting yourself up for a tough at bat."
Hansen scored Ashland's first run on a balk by Preston with two outs in the first. The Grizzlies added two in the second on a sacrifice fly by AJ Adams and Hansen's double, which scored Evan Westhelle from third.
The Comets got on the board in the top of the third, cutting the lead to 3-1 on Crawford's RBI groundout. Westhelle, Ashland's second baseman, fielded the ball cleanly but had no play at the plate and Mike Macuk easily scored from third.
In the fifth, the Grizzlies put their fundamentals to work. Leadoff hitter Taylor Humphrey delivered a full-count single, Hansen laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt and Schlecht doubled into the left-center gap to score Humphrey. Schlecht eventually came home on a wild pitch to give Ashland a 5-1 lead.
The Comets got both those runs back on one play in the top of the sixth, when Tracy launched the longest hit of the day off the fence in right-center then ran around the bases as Humphrey held up his hands — while holding the ball —in an attempt to draw a ground-rule double call. That call never came, and the two-run homer cut Ashland's lead to 5-3.
Flynn kept his cool, inducing back-to-back groundouts to get out of the inning before getting the first two outs of the seventh. Only a dropped third strike with two outs prevented Flynn from picking up his first complete game.
"It's Crater, it's a big game and I did my best to help the team," said Flynn, who didn't find out that he was going to start until Thursday morning. "The off-speed worked at the beginning and started slowing down at the end, but locating the fastball low was probably the key."
Crater 001 002 0 — 3 4 1
Ashland 120 022 x — 7 8 0
Preston, Painter (2), Tracy (5) and Macuk; Flynn, Morrison (7) and Scarminach. W — Flynn 2-0. L — Preston. 2B — A: Hansen, Schlecht, Thomas, Dodds. HR — C: Tracy.