Pilots brace for regionals

After claiming the American Legion A state championship last week the Ashland Pilots took two days off before resuming what has become a marathon baseball season.

Turns out, 48 hours was more than enough.

"After (the break), we all missed it," said Pilots' pitcher/outfielder Charlie Sebrell, who, like most of his teammates, has been lacing up his cleats nearly every day since practices for the Ashland High School season began in February. "We all just want to keep playing baseball. It seems like something special is going on, so we just have to keep the feeling going."

The Pilots' next step is the Northwest Regional Tournament in Anchorage, Ala., where Ashland (35-10) will open the eight-team fracas Friday against the defending champions from Montana. The first pitch is scheduled to be thrown at 9:30 a.m. local time (10:30 here), at Mulcahy Stadium.

Big games are nothing new to the Pilots. Most of the same players played key roles in Ashland High's dramatic march to the OSAA Class 5A state semifinals in June, and also helped an Ashland Babe Ruth all-star team qualify for regionals two years ago.

Ashland proved its playoff mettle against at the American Legion state tourney, where it won all five of its games. Highlighting that run were three comebacks, including one over the defending champions (North Medford) and another in the final round.

Now just one big step away from the American Legion A World Series, Ashland enters regionals as confident as ever.

"We know it's going to be a challenge, but if we play hard we know that we can win," pitcher/first baseman Garrett Tygerson said.

Sebrell agreed.

"We went in 2005 with our Babe Ruth team and we were kind of just happy to be there and we finished third," he said. "But we knew that we should have beat everybody there. I feel like this year it's more business-like. Everybody's excited. We're going to Alaska and it's cool because Alaska's an awesome destination, but everybody's on business."

The first order of business for the Pilots will be to avoid a first-round stumble. Though losing to Montana on Friday would not eliminate Ashland from the Legion bracket, which differs from traditional double-elimination brackets, it would severely limit the Pilots' margin for error the rest of the way.

"We're really pointing toward that first game," said Dave Sebrell, who will be taking over for Don Senestraro as the Pilots' manager after Senestraro decided to stay in Ashland to catch up on family time. "If we can win that first game, I think we'll be all right."

The other teams trying to dethrone Montana are Wyoming, Washington, Utah, Fairbanks Blue, Idaho and South Anchorage. The five-day tournament wraps up with games 14 and 15, if necessary, on Tuesday.

The Pilots are led on offense by Luke Jannusch, Tygerson, Owen Baldrica and Ian Kendall. Jannusch is batting a team-high .425 with two home runs, Tygerson is batting .410, Baldrica is batting .375 and Kendall is at .351 with a team-high six homers. Also, Sam Gaviglio is batting .365 with three long balls and a team-high 38 RBIs.

Ashland has plenty of arms, too. Gaviglio and Charlie Sebrell are the aces, but Tygerson, Luke Stone and Tyler Killeen are also likely to see some action at Anchorage. Tygerson (6-0) has a team-best 1.92 ERA, Sebrell (6-2) is at 2.35 and Gaviglio (4-4) 3.45.

"They'll keep us in the game," Dave Sebrell said of the Pilots' pitching staff, "it's whether we hit or not. We'll see some tough pitching, but we've got some hitters, guys who can hit them out, so we feel good."

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