The Ashland High baseball team was pleased with its three-game sweep through Arizona, but also knew it didn't come against the sort of top-flight competition due to test the Grizzlies throughout April and May in southern Oregon.
On Tuesday, Ashland squared off against one of those Southern Oregon Hybrid juggernauts and made its disappointing 0-4 start look like ancient history.
Sophomore pitcher Steen Fredrickson overcame a bad first inning, Jack Carroll was clutch at the plate and Ashland took advantage of three South Medford errors to hand the Panthers their first loss of the season, 8-3, Tuesday at Harry & David Field.
Fredrickson kept his composure after surrendering two runs in the first inning, holding South Medford to one run on three hits over the next 4 1/3 innings before giving way to Carter Glick with one out in the sixth. With Ashland nursing a 5-3 lead Glick struck out Brandon Lupton and Will Cooney — both looking — to leave a runner stranded at second base.
The Grizzlies, who have won five of their last six games to get back to .500 (5-5), then broke the game open in the seventh, scoring three runs on two hits, including an RBI double off the wall by Fredrickson.
"One of our team mottoes right now is 'We're grinding,'" Fredrickson said. "We came back from Arizona and we're grinding every moment out on this field, so we got down like that at the beginning of the season but we're picking it back up right now."
South Medford (8-1) jumped on Ashland in the first inning. Jimmy Sporer punched a leadoff single to center and Eric Wallan followed with a double down the left-field line to bring home the first run. Pat Alexander then reached on an error and Wallan, who was 2-for-4, scored moments later on a fielder's choice.
South Medford starting pitcher Joe Cooney made that lead stand up through the first three innings before running into trouble in the fourth. Ashland leadoff hitter Bryce Rogan started the rally with a single, and Jamie Flynn's one-out walk put runners on first and second.
That brought up cleanup hitter Eric Carlson, who fell behind 0-2 before lifting an innocent-looking fly ball to right. But the Grizzlies caught a break when Caleb Newman misread the ball, fumbling it off the heal of his glove to load the bases.
Carroll, who was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs, made South Medford pay moments later by chopping Cooney's next pitch up the middle, scoring two runs easily and tying the game.
"It kind of felt like it was a dinky hit, but it found the hole," Carroll said.
Fredrickson kept the rally going when his fly ball to right-center was deep enough to score Carlson from third. Then, the Grizzlies received another gift when Vince Cammarota's popup was dropped by Forrest Pierson behind first base, allowing Carroll to cross the plate and give Ashland a 4-2 lead.
"It's unfortunate," South Medford coach Ray Smith said. "If we're going to beat ourselves, I would prefer to do it in a different way than dropping easy fly balls, but that's the way it goes.
"We were on a pretty good run there and now it's back to reality as far as the things we've got to do to win baseball games."
South Medford was in prime position to turn the tables on the Grizzlies in the bottom of the inning when a gamble by Carlson, Ashland's third baseman, backfired and left the bases loaded with nobody out.
But Fredrickson buckled down. He struck out Newman with a nasty curve, surrendered a run — the only one of the inning for South — on a passed ball, then induced an easy groundout to first before smothering the threat by striking out Wallan looking with a vicious outside fastball with the count full.
That allowed the Grizzlies to maintain a slim 4-3 lead, which they increased to 5-3 in the sixth when Glick was walked by Lupton with the bases loaded.
"(Fredrickson) didn't have his best stuff but he's a competitor," Ashland coach John Wallace said. "There were a couple of times when I almost wanted to go get him out of there and put somebody else in, but he wanted it and he knew that he could just battle and compete and get those guys out, especially with guys in scoring position with two outs. I was really impressed with how he competed "… and that's what we need from him because he's not going to strike everybody out. But he's gotta be tougher out there than the hitters are."
"Credit to (Fredrickson) and their pitching staff," Smith said. "They made the plays when they needed to and we didn't. It's a tough one for us but we'll bounce back, we'll get back to work (today) and try to work on some stuff."
Cooney took the loss after surrendering five runs, three earned, in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two. Lupton gave up three unearned runs in 1 1/3 innings, striking out four and walking one.
Fredrickson struck out six with two walks in 5 1/3 innings.
South Medford out-hit Ashland 7-6, but left seven runners stranded and finished with three errors to the Grizzlies' one.
The Panthers have a week to work out the bugs before next Tuesday's SOH opener against North Medford.
"I don't think we had any false hopes of not being beat this year," Smith said, "but I'd rather another team beat us than us beat ourselves, and I think we beat ourselves today."
Ashland 000 401 3 — 8 6 1
South Medford 200 100 0 — 3 7 3
Fredrickson, Glick (6) and Glick, N. Scott (6); Cooney, Lupton (6) and White. W — Fredrickson (3-2). L — Cooney. 2B — A: Fredrickson; SM: Wallan, White. 3B — A: Rogan.