The Ashland Pilots clinched the Zone 4 south title outright with a win over the Grants Pass Diggers on Saturday and will be the No. 1 seed in the American Legion A Oregon state tournament, which starts Friday at the North Medford High varsity field.
The Pilots, who ended up sweeping the Diggers, secured no worse than a tie for first place in the final league standings by splitting a doubleheader with the Grants Pass Miners on Friday. "But, we went into Saturday wanting to have it outright, without a tiebreaker," Ashland head coach Josh Leedy said.
The Pilots did so in resounding fashion, pounding the Diggers 9-0 in the first game before capping another strong regular season with a 13-6 rout in Game 2.
"It feels good," said Leedy, whose team is 35-6 overall, 26-6 in league play. "These kids worked really hard and it was a lot of games. It's a long season."
The Pilots will face Sheldon in the first round of the eight-team, double elimination state tournament at 9 a.m. Friday. The winner will face La Grande or North Eugene Saturday afternoon. Ashland will be gunning for its third straight state title after beating league rival North Medford in the championship round a year ago.
Ashland starter Hayden Miller pitched a complete-game shutout to lead the Pilots over the Diggers in Saturday's opener. The Ashland High graduate struck out five and walked two while allowing two hits in seven innings to improve to 5-0.
Miller also produced at the plate, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI to lead five Pilots with multiple hits. Also for Ashland, Luke Baldrica was 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored, Sam Taylor was 2-for-2 with an RBI and two runs scored and Nick Hall was 2-for-3 with an RBI.
In Game 2, three Pilots pitchers combined to hold the Diggers to six hits as Ashland again won big. The Pilots scored six runs in the third inning to take a 10-3 lead and cruised from there.
"Just toward the end stretch we had the bottom half of the order producing so much," Leedy said. "In the last four games we had 20 two-out RBIs. That means that either the bottom half is getting on or that the bottom half is getting hits the whole time."
Billy Hansen started on the mound for Ashland and allowed three earned runs on three hits in three innings to improve to 3-1. He struck out three and walked three.
Lee Dodds took over in the fourth and also surrendered three earned runs in three innings before Max Anderson pitched a perfect seventh.
Hall led the Pilots at the plate, going 3-for-4 with a double, three runs scored and an RBI. Taylor Humphrey was 2-for-3 with four RBIs and Baldrica was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs.
The Pilots will be missing six key players at the state tournament. Hall, Lucas Stone, Brent Hegdahl, AJ Adams, Dodds and Humphrey will represent Ashland High in the Pacific Rim Bowl football game, July 26 in Osaka, Japan. The Grizzlies were scheduled to fly to Japan today and won't return until July 28, the final day of the state tourney.
"A big part of our lineup is going to be gone," said Leedy.
Ashland's first-year coach is confident that the Pilots can overcome those losses, however, pointing out that Ashland's defense did not commit an error Saturday and appears to be peaking just in time for the postseason.
"I think the expectations were clear, were set by the players themselves," he said. "And we just kept challenging ourselves to get better and better and play that kind of baseball. So now going into state there's an expectation to play like that."
Grants Pass 000 000 0 — 0 2 0
Ashland 010 125 x — 9 15 0
Robinson and Brown; Miller and Adams, Westhelle (5). W — Miller (5-0). L — Robinson. 2B — A: Baldrica, Ki. Cecil.
Grants Pass 030 300 0 — 6 6 2
Ashland 406 030 x — 13 15 0
Darling and Brown; Hansen, Dodds (4), Anderson (7) and Westhelle. W — Hansen (3-1). L — Darling. 2B — GP: Miller 2; A: Hall, Schlecht, Ka. Cecil.
Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or firstname.lastname@example.org