Next stop: Phoenix.
Arizona, that is.
In what has become an annual tradition, the Ashland High baseball team this week is leaving the roulette-wheel weather of the Rogue Valley for the sure-thing sun of the dessert.
The Grizzlies will fly out of Sacramento, Calif., today and land in Phoenix, Ariz., where they will play three games in three days, watch two more, including a spring training game between the Oakland A's and Los Angeles Dodgers, before returning home Sunday night.
The trip comes on the heels of Ashland's second win in three nonconference games. The Grizzlies fought back to beat Marist 7-5 Tuesday, scoring five runs in the sixth inning, four on Ian Kendall's grand slam, to overcome a 5-2 deficit at North Mountain Park.
The spring break trip to Arizona is Ashland's third in as many years. The Grizzlies will face the Greenway Demons on Thursday, the North Canyon Rattlers on Friday and the Thunderbird Chiefs on Saturday. The weather forecast predicts temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s.
"That's been some of our toughest competition that we've played in the last three years, and we've been pretty good," Ashland head coach Don Senestraro said of the Phoenix trip. "We love going down there because we get great weather, our kids have a good time, we see a few spring training games and we see great quality baseball that you can't get here at this time of year."
In a first for AHS baseball, every game, starting with Thursday's 7 p.m. tilt, will be webcast live at tablerocksportsnetwork.com, with Alan Adams handling play-by-play duties and Dr. Michael Stone adding color commentary.
The Grizzlies have mostly had their way against Oregon schools since 2008, but tend to meet their match in Arizona. Ashland is 53-8 since the start of the '08 season, but just 2-3 in Arizona, including an 0-2 trip last year (a third game was called with the score tied 7-7).
That's fine by Senestraro, who wants the Grizzlies to face as much top-flight competition as possible before their Southern Sky Conference-opener April 8. The Grizzlies have six games between now and that doubleheader against Crater and, while Senestraro says the players should enjoy the vacation aspect of the trip, once the games begin it'll be all business.
"We go down there and we play to (win)," he said. "If you play one of those games to try to get everyone in, not that our lower level guys can't compete, but "¦ It's just that they play good baseball down there and they're probably already 30 games in. So, they've started a long time before us and some of the teams we're playing, they play every single day. So we go down there to compete."
The Grizzlies originally planned to spend their spring break playing in John Day this season, but according to Senestraro those plans were scrapped when other schools backed out of the tournament. Had Ashland remained, it would have been the largest school competing.
"We were going to be playing 2A and 3A teams," Senestraro said, "and we just didn't feel like that was going to prepare us for the season that we want to have."
Senestraro added that, thanks in part to some private donations and a little help from the local American Legion program, the trip to Arizona will end up saving the school district money.
"The kids are happy and the parents are happy because it's a great time down there, and we're happy because we get to play good baseball against good teams and have a good time with our kids," Senestraro said.
Ashland had a good time Tuesday, although it didn't look promising early on.
Marist, a Class 4A team from the Sky-Em League, jumped on top 3-0 on Will Swindling's three-run homer in the first inning.
The Spartans still led by three runs in the sixth when the Grizzlies came roaring back. The game-winning rally began with a dropped pop fly that allowed
Brady Thomas to reach first. Marist starting pitcher Zach Eyster then walked the next two batters to load the bases before being replaced with reliever Jerry Rouleau.
Rouleau plunked Nick Hall to make it 5-3, then got Billy Hansen to pop out to first base. That brought up Kendall, the Oregon State-bound slugger, who crushed the first pitch he saw over the fence in right-center field.
Grizz batters were instructed to take one strike up until that point, but Senestraro on a hunch altered the plan for Kendall.
"(Rouleau) had been struggling a little bit, so that's why I told (Kendall) to go ahead and let her rip," Senestraro said.
Kendall went 3-for-4 with five RBIs and Hall, Ashland's leadoff hitter, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a home run.
Ashland starter Luke Stone allowed three earned runs in five innings before Thomas took over in the sixth and picked up the win to improve to 2-0.
Brady Kirkpatrick went 2-for-4 for the Spartans, who beat North Medford 4-1 on Monday.
Marist 301 001 0 — 5 8 1
Ashland 100 015 x — 7 8 2
Eyster, MacKinnon (6), Rouleau (6) and Swindling; Stone, Thomas (6) and Scarminach. W — Thomas (2-0). L — Rouleau. 2B — M: Brandon. HR — M: Swindling; A: Hall (1), Kendall (1).
Grizzlies to take act back to Arizona
Next stop: Phoenix.