I have to admit, I was not sold on the Ashland High baseball team coming into this season. The Grizzlies seemed to have a few too many question marks on defense. I didn’t see anybody resembling a staff ace. And the batting lineup, I thought, would probably be pretty good at the top, followed by a huge drop-off after about five or six in the order. After an incredible five-year run that included two state championship game appearances and one state title, it appeared quite possible that this would be the year that Ashland finally fell back to Earth.
It didn’t happen like that, though. Instead, Ashland’s defense, following some early-season growing pains, has turned out to be quite reliable – case in point, it turned three key double plays in Ashland’s big Game 2 blowout win over 6A title contender Crater on Saturday. Junior right-hander Jamie Flynn has emerged as Ashland’s next golden arm, and that was before Saturday’s prove-it, four-hit complete-game victory over Crater. And as for that batting lineup, the 6-7-8-9 spots have turned out to be a strength, not a weakness, with sophomores Eric Carlson and Bryce Rogan providing key hits in recent wins over Crater, South Medford and Mountain View.
The playoffs start this week and Ashland, ranked fifth in the OSAA 5A rankings as of Saturday night, is once again positioned well for a nice postseason run. The key to the Grizzlies’ championship hopes may be their bullpen. Who will get the start when Flynn can’t? I asked coach Paul Westhelle that question Saturday and he said he’s still not sure. Senior righty Ethan Schlecht and junior lefty Jack Carroll appear to be the top two candidates, but there’s no clear favorite. Schlecht has the most big-game experience, but if he’s pitching that means he’s not in the field, where he’s valuable as a four-year starting infielder. Carroll has impressive complete-game victories over North Medford (shutout) and Crater, but is a slow starter and has put the Grizzlies in jams by walking guys in bunches.
Freshman Steen Fredrickson and Carlson may also see action this postseason, but anybody who’s paid attention to the playoffs knows that from here on out it’ll pretty much be a two-man show in the pitching department.
No matter who Westhelle goes with, it looks like the Grizzlies will once again be a factor in the playoffs. The play-in game will most likely be played Thursday. Check back here for links and other playoff notes once the opponent has been determined.