It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
ASHLAND — A month ago, clutch hits were hard to come by for the Ashland Grizzlies.
Apparently, those days are over.
Junior ace Jamie Flynn delivered another postseason gem and Ashland used three two-out rallies to score each of its runs en route to a 5-1 victory over Hood River Valley in the first round of the Class 5A state baseball tournament Wednesday at North Mountain Park.
Flynn allowed three hits while striking out eight in his fifth complete-game in a row and received all the run support he would need when Billy Hansen and Bryce Rogan delivered back-to-back run-scoring hits in the first inning, as the fifth-ranked Grizzlies (17-9) advanced to the state quarterfinals for the sixth year in a row.
Ashland now travels to face fourth-ranked Sherwood (23-4), the defending state champions, on Friday.
"To be the champion, you've got to beat the champion, that's something (assistant) coach (Charlie) Hall said," Hansen said. "If we want to get to where our goal is, and that's the state championship, we're going to have to beat all the best teams. So, we think it's going to be a very competitive game and we're excited for the challenge."
Just like last Wednesday's play-in win over Marist, the Grizzlies gave Flynn an early lead to work with — this time, against Hood River Valley ace and Columbia River Conference pitcher of the year Cody Walker. The curveball-throwing specialist retired two of the first three Grizzlies he faced on flyouts, but paid for Evan Westhelle-Grant's one-out double when Hansen came through with a two-out double down the third-base line, scoring the first run of the game. Moments later, Bryce Rogan also delivered in the clutch, punching Walker's full-count offering into left to give the Grizzlies a quick two-run lead.
That proved to be enough for Flynn, who tossed his second three-hit complete game this postseason against a Hood River Valley team (13-13) that came in hot, averaging 8.2 runs in its previous five games.
"The off-speed wasn't really working in the beginning and I really had to fight around that," Flynn said, "but it started working in the last couple innings and that was pretty much the key. "… When the off-speed picked up, they really couldn't hit anything."
Hood River Valley coach Erich Harjo concurred.
"I just think that we didn't execute offensively," he said. "We knew exactly what we were going to see. I'm not going to take anything away from Flynn, he did a great job, but we just didn't prepare well enough."
Junior right fielder Ryan Bottimore was 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI to lead the Grizzlies at the plate, while seven other Grizzlies had one hit in a balanced offensive performance.
For the Eagles, junior catcher Kyle Beam was 2-for-3. Walker, a senior, surrendered five runs, all earned, in 5 2/3 innings of work. He struck out four and walked two.
Flynn escaped his most dangerous jam of the game in the fourth when he got Alex Jimenez, the Eagles' No. 8 batter, to fly out to right with the tying run on second base. Tensions were high at the moment — the Eagles had just pulled within 2-1 on Luke Kopecky's chopper to third, which scored Beam — but the Grizzlies could let out a sigh of relief after Jimenez barely missed Flynn's 2-0 fastball.
The Eagles also threatened in the second, putting runners on second and third with one out following a Grizz miscue — Westhelle-Grant lost a potential pop-out in shallow right — and Flynn's only walk of the day. But Flynn buckled down, striking out Ryan Colesar with an corner-painting curve before blowing away Jimenez with an 87 mph fastball.
"What's so great about (Flynn) is that when a few mistakes happen behind him, he doesn't hang his head and say, 'Woe is me, I could have been out of that already,'" Ashland coach Paul Westhelle said. "He goes and gets the next guy."
Ashland tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom of the fourth to reclaim the momentum. The bottom of Ashland's order came through this time. After Walker retired the first two batters, Flynn, batting sixth in the order, singled to left. Sophomore third baseman Eric Carlson followed with a moon shot over Jimenez in left, scoring Flynn. Bottimore then singled home Carlson, drilling a 1-2 pitch through the left side of the infield to give the Grizzlies a 4-1 lead.
Ashland added one more in the sixth on Milgram's RBI triple off the wall in left-center, a blast that followed Bottimore's two-out double.
Now, Westhelle has two days to decide who will get the start on the mound against Sherwood, which beat West Albany 8-4 in another first-round game Wednesday. It won't be an easy decision. While Flynn has been dominant over the last four weeks, no other Ashland pitcher has emerged as a clear No. 2 starter. The choice will likely come down to junior lefty Jack Carroll and senior righty Ethan Schlecht.
Hood River Valley 000 100 0 — 1 3 0
Ashland 200 201 x — 5 9 2
Walker, Bofferding (6) and Beam; Flynn and Glick. W — Flynn (8-2). L — Walker. 2B — A: Westhelle-Grant, Hansen, Carlson, Bottimore. 3B — A: Milgram.