Pilots off to state tourney

The games will be bigger, the stakes higher. But as far as the competition is concerned, the Ashland Pilots' postseason will look an awful lot like their regular season.

The Pilots shove off today for Eugene, where they will join seven other teams in the American Legion A Oregon State Tournament. The double-elimination affair begins with four first-round games Thursday and wraps up with the championship round Monday. All games will be played at Swede Johnson Stadium, where Ashland has a history of success — at least in high school ball.

The Pilots (26-11) will be looking to grab their third state championship in four years after watching their threepeat hopes get dashed in Medford last summer. As the No. 1 seed out of Area 4, Ashland will play the La Grande Subway A's in the first round at noon Thursday. The winner of that game will play either Klamath Falls or North Eugene in Friday's semifinal round.

In other first-round games, Salem will play North Coos at 9 a.m. Thursday, and Central Point, the No. 2 seed from Area 4, will play Roseburg at 3 p.m. Thursday. Klamath Falls and North Eugene will square off at 6 p.m.

Advanced scouting will be easier than usual for the Pilots this year at state since they've already played four of the other seven teams — the Salem Senators, the North Coos Waterfront, and fellow Area 4 rivals Klamath Falls and Central Point. Will that help the Pilots in the tournament? Maybe, and maybe not.

"We have somewhat of a scouting report on those teams," Ashland head coach Jeff Turner said. "Obviously, we may not have seen the best pitchers and batters for (North Coos) and Salem because they were all nonleague games, but we have some idea of what they can do."

As usual in tournament play, pitching depth will be crucial. As far as that goes, Ashland, barring an unfortunate string of extra-inning games, appears well equipped for a deep postseason run.

The staff ace is Brady Thomas, a tall, hard-throwing righty who's been almost untouchable at times this season. Behind Thomas are two more reliable starters, Max Anderson and Ethan Schlecht, followed by Billy Hansen and Evan Westhelle-Grant.

The key could be Anderson, who's been solid but doesn't have the stamina of Thomas and Schlecht. That complicates Turner's first major decision: Who should start against La Grande?

"So trying to figure out the rotation that we're going to use to get the most innings out of those top three is still kind of what we're working on right now," Turner said prior to Tuesday's practice at North Mountain Park. "And of course, it's also going to depend on how we do."

In other words, the Pilots want to avoid long innings, which are the quickest way to drive up pitch counts and exhaust a pitching staff. To emphasize the importance of making the routine play, Ashland focused on defense during practice Monday and Tuesday. That's been a weakness at times for the Pilots, who clinched the Area 4 title by sweeping St. Mary's on Sunday.

"We're pretty confident, we just have got to pick up our defense, for sure," third baseman and senior-to-be Brent Hegdahl said. "It's been kind of our downfall throughout the year. Yeah, we've struggled here and there, but we're getting it together. These last few games we've been really good."

Ashland finished the regular season tied with Central Point atop the Area 4 standings, but the Pilots, who finished 22-10 in league play, were awarded the top seed to state because they came out ahead in the third tie-breaker — record against the fourth-place team.

Ashland has some pleasant memories at Swede Johnson Stadium, one of the finest prep baseball facilities in the state. The Ashland High Grizzlies earned a thrilling quarterfinal victory there in 2008 on their way to the school's first and only state championship, and earned another quarterfinal win there the following year.

Share This Story