His calf cramping and the pressure rising, Ashland pitcher Ian Kendall was ready to call it a night in the fourth inning.
That's when he was paid a visit by catcher Lewis Sebrell, a football and hockey player who knows what it's like to play with an injury.
"I just tried to fight through, and Lewis came up to me and said, 'Just step up,'" Kendall said. "He's having some pain in his foot so that really motivated me to keep going."
Moments later Kendall blew a full-count fastball past Brad Bodon to stymie Crescent Valley's last serious scoring threat, and the No. 2-ranked Grizzlies went on to beat the Raiders 4-0 in the second round of the OSAA Class 5A state baseball playoffs Tuesday at North Mountain Park.
Ashland's ninth shutout of the season earns the Grizzlies (22-4) a quarterfinal rematch with North Eugene, which beat Cleveland 3-0 on the road in another second-round game Tuesday.
The red-hot Grizzlies — they've won 19 of their last 20 games — and No. 7 Highlanders (17-11) square off Friday at North Eugene's Swede Johnson Stadium, site of last year's epic Elite Eight duel. The Grizzlies won that game with a last-gasp home run, a stunning twist that paved the way for Ashland's first state title.
"I think (the Highlanders) are going to want us," said Kendall, who improved to 6-0 on the mound while blasting his team-high sixth homer. "They're going to want our butts pretty badly. They're looking for revenge and we're going to give them a good fight."
A good fight is exactly what the Raiders (15-13) gave the Grizzlies Tuesday, although Ashland whiffed on multiple opportunities at an early-round knockout. Ashland out-hit Crescent Valley 11-4, committed one meaningless error and turned a perfectly-executed pick-off play into a key out.
But the Grizzlies also had a hard time shaking the Raiders despite generating plenty of chances to do so.
Ashland didn't squander its first big opportunity, a first-inning rally highlighted by Kendall's three-run bomb. After that, it was mostly a struggle for the home team.
Ashland left 10 runners on base and was held scoreless in the third and fourth innings despite loading the bases in both frames. Crescent Valley senior Dusty Hultberg pitched the first two innings and was tagged with the loss. Three Raider relievers — Scott Stone, Brayden Dunning and Logan Cooper — combined to hold Ashland to one run on five hits the rest of the way.
"It seems like we had runners on base all the time, we just couldn't get that big (hit)," Ashland coach Don Senestraro said. "I was OK with our hitting — our clutch hitting wasn't good. I don't know how you work on that other than the kids being more selective at the plate."
Kendall selected right when he jumped all over Hultberg's first offering to give Ashland all the runs it would need with two outs in the first. Charlie Sebrell started the rally with a leadoff single and three batters later Garrett Tygerson hammered a ground-rule double to center that put runners at second and third.
Kendall vaporized the next pitch over the wall in left.
"I was thinking curve ball and he kind of looped it in and I just got the good part of the bat on it," Kendall said. "I always run it out, but that one felt pretty good. I kind of felt like it was (gone)."
"It set the tone for us," Senestraro added. "It got us excited and it got us ahead, which takes a little pressure off (Kendall) to throw strikes and he can take it easy on the mound."
Making his first postseason appearance on the hill, Kendall struck out six and walked four in 5 1-3 innings. The junior right-hander allowed three hits, all singles.
Kendall's right calf started to cramp up as the Raiders tried to mount a rally in the fourth, but he continued to pitch until Charlie Sebrell took over with one out in the sixth. Sebrell gave up one hit the rest of the way to pick up his third save.
"When (Kendall) had to, he'd bear down and got the ball to where he needed to and he threw strikes when he needed to," Crescent Valley coach Jim Owre said.
The Raiders' blew perhaps their best chance to cut into the lead in the top of the fourth, when Van Fudge was issued a leadoff walk and Grant Mattes followed with a single. Ashland quickly squashed the rally, though, fooling Fudge on a pickoff play before Kendall shut the door with consecutive strikeouts.
"When you go from first and second, no outs to man on second, one out, that's a big difference," Senestraro said.
Ashland tacked on another insurance run in the fifth when Brent Hegdahl (2-for-3) singled home Hayden Miller (2-for-2).
Charlie Sebrell was also strong at the plate, going 2-for-4.
Ashland's defense was as good as ever. A wild pickoff attempt by Kendall was the only blemish on a day that included tough running catches by outfielders Luke Baldrica and Lucas Stone.
"Our pitching was outstanding once again and our defense did really good, outfield especially with their reads," said Hegdahl, a sophomore who started at third base. "I thought it was our best defensive game so far this year."
Now, Ashland turns its attention to a North Eugene team that came within an out of eliminating the Grizzlies last season.
The Highlanders blanked Cleveland on the strength of Tim Keller's two-hit shutout.
"I'm sure they have an axe to grind with us," Senestraro said. "I hope we win because it's a long ride home."
Grizz notes: The four runs scored was Ashland's lowest scoring output in a victory since a 4-0 win over Klamath Union on May 2. "¦ Several former Grizzlies were in attendance, including Sam Littleton, Max Gordon and Owen Baldrica. Gordon and Baldrica played on Ashland's 2008 state championship team. "¦ Owre said Kendall ranks among the top three or four pitchers his team has faced this season. "¦ Ashland's "pick 2" play, which helped the Grizzlies escape the fourth-inning jam, was initiated by Hall, the shortstop, whose break to third base fooled Fudge into thinking he was safe. Charges to home by the first and third basemen also help disguise the play. "As Nick comes across, it sucks the runners off," Senestraro said, "so (the base runner) thinks nothing's going to happen and next thing you know, he's hosed. He thinks we're in bunt coverage, but we're running pickoff the whole time." "¦ Keller could pitch against the Grizzlies Friday, but would have to bounce back quickly from Tuesday's complete-game. He struck out 17 Cleveland batters. "¦ Charlie Sebrell started on the mound for the Grizzlies in last year's quarterfinal round. Battling a stomach flu and strep throat, he allowed four runs on six hits in five innings.
Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or email@example.com