The Ashland Pilots entered Wednesday’s regular-season finale knowing that they needed a lot to go right to see their slim postseason hopes become a reality.
After 10 hard-fought innings to open their final doubleheader of the summer, those hopes were dashed.
Ashland’s 9-7 loss in extra innings to the South Medford Colts at North Mountain Park meant that there would be no potential state tournament appearance for a Pilots team that has done plenty of learning throughout the summer of 2018.
“It summarizes the character of this team, and the character of this team is that they don’t quit ever no matter what the situation is,” Ashland head coach Oz Sailors said, referencing her team rallying in the bottom of the seventh to force extras and then bringing the potential winning run to the plate in the 10th after allowing four runs in the top half of the inning. “Obviously we’ve had losing streaks both in the (high school) regular season and in summer ball, but they’ve always been hungry to come out and get better. They’ve never gone down without a fight.”
Ashland, which needed to win both and then see Eagle Point get swept in a doubleheader as well to have any shot of making the state tournament field, fell 10-8 in Game 2.
Sailors and the Pilots finished with a 9-19 overall record and 8-14 in Area 4 this summer — some valuable wins, confidence and experience for a group that saw the vast majority of its players endure a one-win season on the varsity level at Ashland High School in the spring.
“They’ve grown so much since February, and even more since we started practicing for summer ball in May,” Sailors said. “It’s been really cool to the progression with guys like Eli (Westrick), Nick (Buccino) and Rowan (Amann) that were sophomores and this was their first year as starters on varsity. Just to see them have that confidence that they didn’t necessarily have at the beginning of the season, see them come out there and know that they’re good enough and some of the best players on the field.”
The 10th and final inning of the opener saw South Medford score four runs against Ashland reliever Ean Lawrence, who had previously thrown four innings of scoreless relief in the game.
The Colts took a 6-5 lead on an RBI triple into the left field corner by Kaleb Barney, who was then the first of two runners to score on wild pitches within minutes of one another. Charlie Campbell capped what proved to be the game-winning four-run surge with an RBI single into left.
Ashland was able to cut the deficit in half with a pair of runs in the bottom of the 10th, getting an RBI double from Nathan Carter — who was 2-for-4 in Game 1 — and an RBI groundout from Tuesday’s walk-off hero, Dane Reynolds.
The Pilots were able to get the would-be tying run on base, when Westrick drew a two-out walk, but a grounder off the bat of Amann ended the game.
It would have been the Pilots’ second comeback attempt of the afternoon after they rallied in the seventh to keep the game alive.
In that case, the heart of the Ashland order, Evan McLennan and Buccino, hit back-to-back doubles with two outs to tie the game at 5-all.
Buccino, who tied the opening game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the North Medford Mavericks with a three-run home run, recorded three hits and drove in three more runs in Wednesday’s opener. McLennan also had a multi-hit day in Game 1, finishing 2-for-5 with a pair of doubles, an RBI and a run scored.
“Both of those guys (McLennan and Buccino) and the big core of our starting lineup has been consistent and given our pitchers some runs to work with this season and I think that’s why we’ve had a little more success this summer,” Sailors said.
Westrick, who has emerged throughout the spring and summer as a pitcher Ashland can build around, tossed the opening five innings, allowing five runs on seven hits. Even though he was battling through some control issues with his secondary pitches, Westrick finished with five strikeouts and walked five.
While he got tagged with the loss, Lawrence earned the praises of Sailors after he pitched 4 2/3 innings out of the bullpen in relief of Westrick.
“It was incredible,” Sailors said. “I put him in a very difficult situation and he kept us in the game. As incoming freshman, he went up there against varsity-level players and just competed and he was fearless. I couldn’t have asked for anything out of any the pitchers I could have brought in, let alone an incoming freshman. That was an incredibly gutsy performance and I’m extremely proud of him for that.”
South Medford 000 230 000 4 — 9 11 1
Ashland 102 010 100 2 — 7 10 4
Laushtedt, Ledendecker (8) and Joe; Westrick, Lawrence (6), Amann (10) and Brown. W — Ledendecker. L — Lawrence. 2B — SM: Hinton, Campbell, Joe, Ledendecker; A: McLennan (2), Buccino, Carter. 3B — SM: Barney .
South Medford 102 043 0 — 10 12 4
Ashland 101 100 5 — 8 15 1
Shields, Campbell (7) and Joe; Buccino, Amann (4), Stranberg (5), Burns (6), McLennan (7) and Evans, Brown (5), Evans (6). W — Shields. L — Buccino. 2B — SM: Shields; A: Lemhouse, Westrick, Brown. 3B — A: Carter.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.