MEDFORD — Arguably the busiest portion of the Ashland Pilots’ schedule started on a successful note.
And a relatively stressful one, too.
The Pilots ended up needing every bit of the room for error they had in their 7-6 win over the South Medford Colts in the opening game of their doubleheader on Monday afternoon. Nick Buccino, in from the bullpen to try and get the save, was able to get out of a bases-loaded jam with the tying run at third base that guaranteed Ashland would leave its second trip to Medford in less than a week with no worse than a split.
“The big killer for us has been the other team coming with that late rally,” Ashland starting pitcher Rowan Amann said. “For us to score some more runs, that calmed me down. I got to get out there and the rest of the pitchers got to get out there and throw.”
A split is exactly what ended up happening, as another one-run game saw South Medford come out on top, with the Colts claiming a 4-3 win over the Pilots despite Ashland being the ones attempting a late-game comeback.
Ashland (6-10 overall) will play its second doubleheader in as many days this afternoon at North Mountain Park, a makeup after Phoenix was forced to postpone Saturday’s pair of games due to not having enough players to field a full starting lineup. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. today.
The Pilots will wrap up their four-day stretch of five games with a single game at home against Cascade Christian on Thursday afternoon.
“(South Medford) is a good team, a good program and during high school ball they’re a division ahead of us,” Ashland head coach Oz Sailors said. “For us to not only compete with them but to stick it to them and get a win, I hope that really boosts our confidence. I says a lot of about how they’re able to come in here and fight back.”
The major difference between the opening game of last Thursday’s doubleheader against the North Medford Mavericks and this one is this: Once Ashland got the lead, the Pilots were able to hold onto it.
Ashland scored four runs in the top of the sixth inning to push its lead to 7-2, getting two-out RBI singles from Michael Nixon and Eli Westrick and a two-run single to shallow center field from Amann, who got the win after pitching 5 1/3 solid innings in what Sailors described as “the best I’ve seen him throw — especially against a really good team.”
“That was just the difference in the game,” Sailors said. “I think the momentum was kinda in (South Medford’s) favor because they were starting to chip away and I knew that Rowan was getting up toward his pitch count. ... We made a couple of mistakes to put ourselves in a hole, but just being able to put the pressure on offensively was what made the difference in this being a win.”
South Medford, however, responded with four runs of its own in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of two costly Ashland errors within seconds of one another to pull within one run for the second time in the game at 7-6.
The Colts didn’t record a hit on their way to loading the bases in the seventh, taking advantage of a pair of walks and another Pilots error.
With the potential tying and game-winning runs in scoring position with one out, Buccino got a grounder to Evan McLennan — who threw home to get the lead runner for the second out — and fly out to Alo Burt in left field to prevent any kind of late-game shenanigans.
“That was a little scary,” said Amann, who played shortstop in the bottom of the seventh inning. “Obviously, it was rough to make that error to get the winning run on second, but Nick did a great job getting out of it. I think, for the most part, we were calm and knew we were going to make the plays. All we had to do was get two more outs.”
The Pilots gave Amann an early lead to work with a pair of runs in the top of the second and then another one an inning later.
Luke Brown scored the game’s first run after a South Medford fielding error. Moments later, Nixon drove in Dane Reynolds when a popup in extremely shallow right field got lost in the sun.
Brown, who reached base in all four of his plate appearances in Monday’s opener, crushed an RBI double to the left field wall to put the Pilots up 3-0.
Amann spent a good portion of his outing against the Colts in the stretch, weaving his way out of trouble from the first inning onward.
Both teams nearly had the same number of hits — Ashland’s 11 to South Medford’s 10 — but Amann was able to strand at least one runner on base in every inning he started.
Of South’s 12 runners left on base in the game, eight came in innings that saw Amann recording the final out.
On the game, Amann allowed nine hits while three of the four runs charged to his record were earned. He struck out three and walked two.
“I think he had a bulldog mentality,” Sailors said of Amann. “You’ll see a lot of No. 3 starters in college have that where people might get on, but they just bear down and they give their team a chance to win. Today I told him ‘Look, just give us a chance to win and we’ll take care of the rest,’ and that’s what he did.”
Ashland 021 004 0 — 7 11 5
South Medford 000 114 0 — 6 10 2
Amann, McLennan (6), Buccino (7) and Gilliland; Laushstedt, Ledendecker (6) and Joe. W — Amann. L — Laushstedt. 2B — A: Brown, Buccino; SM: Hinton, Shenk, Ledendecker.
Ashland 000 020 1 — 3 9 2
South Medford 000 220 x — 4 6 3
Brown, Stranberg (6) and Gilliland; Shields and Ledendecker. W — Shields. L — Brown. 2B — A: Amann. 3B — SM: Ledendecker.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.