Once the Ashland Pilots got right on the field in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, things just seemed to fall into place.
The Pilots didn’t just eliminate a 5-2 deficit on their way to a 12-8 win over the North Jackson Royals at North Mountain Park. No, they flew by the Royals and then some, scoring 10 unanswered runs in the span of four innings to more than make up for early defensive miscues behind starting pitcher Eli Westrick.
“We just did a good job of stringing hits together,” Pilots head coach Oz Sailors said. “We had some really good at-bats, we made their pitchers work and we got into their bullpen. Just super-timely base running and we were aggressive on the bases, and that was really the difference for us.”
While the bats stayed hot in the second game, the Pilots were unable to dig themselves out of another early hole, falling 13-8 to the Royals.
Ashland (7-13 overall, 6-8 league), which still has a legit shot to make the state tournament later this month, continues what is a busy beginning to July with a 1 p.m. doubleheader this afternoon against the Klamath Falls Cardinals.
Those same Cardinals will then face the Pilots in another doubleheader on Friday in Ashland.
In total, Ashland will have played 10 games in the span of eight days when it wraps up a twinbill against North Medford next Tuesday.
“I think it’s a really good thing that we came out and got this first win in this really big series because the last time we faced this team we split the series,” Pilots outfielder Luke Brown said. “To win against a team that we’re tied with in the standings is pretty big and I think it’s going to carry a lot of momentum in the next 10 games.”
Even trailing 5-2 after 2 1/2 innings, it wasn’t like Westrick was pitching poorly.
His pitch count stood at 60 entering the top of the fourth, mostly due to the fact that the Pilots committed four of their five game-one errors in the first three innings.
But after the Royals’ early runs, Westrick was absolute nails, not allowing a hit in three straight scoreless innings just as the Pilots began to take control.
Westrick allowed seven hits and three earned runs in six-plus innings of work before reaching his pitch limit two batters into the top of the seventh. He struck out four and walked two.
“He’s a competitor and he’s as competitive as it gets,” Sailors said of Westrick. “He had two huge pickoffs that fired everybody up. He’s the kind of guy that when the defense lets him down he picks the defense up. It was big for him to get absolutely cruisin’ through the last 3 ? innings there.”
The tide started to turn in the bottom of the third when Ashland was able to tie the game at 5-5 with three runs in quick fashion.
Evan McLennan got things going with an RBI double right before Rowan Amann scampered in from third on a wild pitch. Brownthen crushed an RBI double of his own to the wall in right-center to tie the game.
“In the spring, we weren’t much of a power hitting team,” Brown began, “but a lot of us have been hitting the weight room every other day and getting stronger so that we can come out here and put on a show for the fans and take home some wins.”
An inning later, the line just kept on moving.
Amann gave Ashland a 6-5 lead with an RBI single to left field. Three batters later, Brown drove in Amann with a sacrifice fly to deep center field.
The Pilots, who recorded 23 hits in the doubleheader against the Royals, added a run in the fifth when Carter scored on a North Jackson throwing error.
Ashland broke it open in its last at-bats of the opener, getting two-run singles from Carter and Isaac Evans to go up 12-5.
McLenann — who was 3-for-3 at the plate in the opener — and Amann each scored three runs. A trio of Pilots — McLennan, Brown and Carter — all drove in two runs apiece, while Evans and Amann also had a pair of hits in the game.
“The middle guys were huge today,” Sailors said. “Evan was huge, Nick (Buccino), Nathan, Eli, Luke all of them, one through six. Even the bottom of the order, they had some great at-bats, too, and everybody was just doing their job and that’s what the difference was.”
Alves, Blevins (4) and Kendrick; Westrick, Anway (7) and Evans. W — Westrick. L — Alves. 2B — NJ: Fontana, Marsh; A: Amann, Westrick, Brown, McLenann.
Gaudern, Fontana (6) and Kendrick; Amann, Brown (4), Hanks (4), Ranswieler (7) and Evans. W — Gaudern. L — Brown. 2B — NJ: Leeper, Marsh, Huffman, Alves; A: Anway, Amann, Brown, McLennan, Buccino.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.