Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
ASHLAND — In an effort to revitalize his team's offensive outlook, North Medford coach Brett Wolfe recently came up with a new twist on his players' approach at the plate.
Moving for a moment beyond ideals on batting stance or what to look for during an at-bat, Wolfe instilled a new focus that revolved simply around how his players carry themselves in those moments at the plate.
"If you have any failure it has a tendency to turn the focus negative," he said. "Kids just weren't allowed to have any negative body language (anymore)."
So far, so good.
North Medford pounded out 16 hits Tuesday, including eight in an eight-run first-inning assault, as the Black Tornado buried the host Ashland Grizzlies 15-4 in five innings in a nonconference battle at North Mountain Park.
Three days after dislocating his right little finger in a win over Roseburg, Charlie Walker was back in the starting lineup for Class 6A North Medford and went 3-for-4 at the plate with two runs and an RBI to lead the Tornado (14-5). Starting pitcher Bryan Carbonell held 5A Ashland (10-9) to two runs on three hits to pick up the win, and helped his own cause by going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
Also for North, leadoff hitter Taylor Raff went 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs. Both his hits came in the first inning, including a two-run double to deep left that gave the Tornado a 7-0 lead.
Ashland starter Ethan Schlecht struggled to locate his fastball and was hit hard when he did. He gave up six straight hits to open the game, including a pair of infield singles that set the tone for the blowout. Schlecht wound up with three innings of work. He struck out two, but gave up eight runs on nine hits, a walk and a hit batter.
"Anybody who has the courage to toe the mound is going to have days like that," Ashland coach Paul Westhelle said. "So what you do with it is learn what you can learn and move on. That's how you gotta do it. That's what I told him to do, to get back at it and try to get command of his offspeed stuff."
That command wasn't there early, and the Tornado, ranked No. 8 in the 6A coaches poll heading into the game, feasted.
Raff started the hit parade with a hard single to left, Carbonell followed with a single to center and Micah Brown's single brought home the first run of the game. That brought up Walker, and the speedy second baseman beat out an infield single to give North a 2-0 lead. Hayden Evans punched a line drive through the left side to make it 3-0, and A.J. Miller's fielder's choice groundout to short gave the visitors a 4-0 lead.
Schlecht struck out the next batter, Christian Gillis, on four pitches and was one strike away from getting out of the inning before hitting North's No. 9 batter, Austin Zavala, with a full-count fastball.
Moments later, Raff made the Grizzlies pay, unloading on Schlecht's 2-0 offering. Ashland left fielder Cory Milgram made a diving attempt and appeared to have the ball before hitting the turf, but it came out of his glove and two more runs scored. Carbonell then cranked an RBI double to complete the first-inning onslaught.
"That's just baseball," Ashland shortstop Billy Hansen said of North's first-inning explosion. "We all were really excited for the game, to come out and compete against a good team, and it's hard when it just doesn't go your way early. I don't think you can put the blame on anybody. It's just that they did a good job swinging the bat early in the game, found some holes, got some clutch hits and got on top of us early."
Wolfe said North's focus on thinking positive helped at the plate.
"A lot of our kids have been struggling with their approach at the plate because if they don't have a good at-bat then it affects their next at-bat," he said. "So we've been working really hard on the mental side of the game, being focused, getting good pitches to hit and being aggressive."
Ashland tried to make a game of it, scoring two runs on a Bryce Rogan single and a pair of errors in the third. Milgram came home when Evan Westhelle's shot to center was dropped, and Rogan batted home the second run with a single, cutting the deficit to 8-2.
But North got those runs plus three more back in the top of the fourth on five more hits, including a double by Miller, to hand Ashland its most lopsided defeat of the season.
The lopsided final score was in contrast to the first two games of the three-game series, which saw the two teams split a pair of low-scoring affairs — 4-3 for North, 2-0 for Ashland — in Medford.
"I could have swore this was going to be a close game today," coach Westhelle said. "We just didn't give ourselves a chance to win in the first inning."
North Medford 800 52 — 15 16 4
Ashland 002 02 — 4 6 2
Carbonell, Westfall (4) and Zavala; Schlecht, Carlson (4), Hansen (5) and Glick, Westhelle (5). W — Carbonell. L — Schlecht. 2B — NM: Raff, Carbonell, Miller; A: Flynn.