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 — Jamie Flynn started the postseason the way he ended the regular season, and that was plenty good enough to keep the red-hot Ashland High baseball team rolling into the Class 5A state tournament.
Flynn struck out 12 without a walk in his fourth complete game in a row and also went 2-for-3 at the plate with a back-breaking two-run single to power the Grizzlies to a 6-1 victory over Marist in a play-in game Thursday at North Mountain Park.
The win, Ashland's sixth straight, advances the Grizzlies (16-9) to the 16-team 5A state tournament, where they'll host a first-round game on Wednesday.
"(Flynn) was just terrific in every aspect of the game," Ashland coach Paul Westhelle said. "He competed very well, but that's pretty much what we've seen all year. That sinker down, when they put it in play they had a lot of ground balls. And he had 12 strikeouts, so it's a dominating effort. He just did a really nice job."
Painting the corners with every pitch in his arsenal, Flynn set the tone early by striking out the side in the first inning. It was a running theme. He retired six of the first nine batters he faced on strikes and would have made it seven if not for a dropped third strike.
Ashland jumped on top in the bottom of the first thanks to a pair of errors by Marist second baseman Levi Yarborough. First, his low throw to first prevented the Spartans (7-16) from completing a 5-4-3 double play. Then moments later he dropped a pop-up, allowing Ethan Schlecht to score from second.
The game briefly turned into a pitchers' duel after that, with Spartans' starter Grant Jamieson baffling Ashland with a wicked curve. The Grizzlies eventually tacked on an insurance run in the fourth when sophomore Bryce Rogan laced Jamieson's first offering to center to score Schlecht from third.
"Coach (John) Wallace is telling us just put it up the middle or (opposite field) with the curveball," Rogan said, "because the pitcher is throwing a lot of curveballs and he's leading us off with curveballs. And he just left one up and I took advantage of it and put it up the middle."
The Grizzlies broke the game open in the sixth, pushing across four more runs — two on Flynn's bases-loaded single to left and two on Ryan Bottimore's double over the head of Marist left-fielder Travis Walcott.
Jamieson was pulled after walking the first two batters he faced in the sixth and wound up taking the loss. He allowed four runs, three earned, on three hits with nine strikeouts and three walks. Rowdy Huston surrendered two runs on two hits in one inning of relief.
Flynn's complete-game effort was a picture of efficiency. He threw just 77 pitches, including 23 first-pitch strikes that allowed the junior right-hander to stay ahead in the count all day.
"He looked good," Marist coach Scott DeWitt said. "He had a good tempo and he was throwing all his pitches for strikes. He's a good pitcher, and when you can throw two or three pitches for strikes down at the knees he's going to have success."
"My curveball wasn't really working the first couple innings, and then it settled down and started really moving for me," Flynn said. "And the movement on the fastball was really key. Just placing that and putting it where I wanted — I got a lot of calls on the corners and one on the outside part of the plate, and that really helped."
Flynn was the only multiple hitter for Ashland, while Schlecht walked twice and scored three runs.
Jamieson frustrated the top of Ashland's order, limiting the Grizzlies' first four batters to a combined 1-for-11 with five strikeouts.
Two outs away from his second shutout in his last three outings, Flynn allowed a double to Bennett Chiongbian, who scored moments later on Huston's flare to right. Flynn then struck out Walcott for the third time in the game, and induced a 5-3 ground out to clinch Ashland's sixth straight playoff berth.
Chiongbian was 2-for-3 with a run scored to lead the Spartans, who lost five of their last six games.
"We really are just looking forward to another challenge," Flynn said. "That was a good game, but we know that we're going to have to expect better pitching, better hitting, better defense overall in the next couple of rounds."
Marist 000 000 1 — 1 3 3
Ashland 100 104 x — 6 5 0
Jamieson, Huston and Hutson; Flynn and Glick. W —Flynn (7-2). L — Jamieson. 2B — M: Chiongbian; A: Bottimore.