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...
Minus two of their top players, few would have faulted Ashland's baseball team for coming up short in a road game at North Medford High that pitted the No. 1 teams in the state's Class 6A and 5A power rankings.
But instead of worrying about what they didn't have — with senior leaders Jamie Flynn (college recruiting trip) and Jack Carroll (sick) not in uniform — the Grizzlies shuffled things around and took the challenge head on Tuesday.
Guided by an impressive spot start from junior Carter Glick and some key hitting from junior Bryce Rogan and sophomore Steen Fredrickson, Ashland showed it had plenty on this day in securing a 3-2 nonleague win over North Medford.
"Coming out here missing two of our key guys, we knew it was going to be a grind," said Fredrickson, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and pitched a scoreless seventh for his first save. We knew they were good, we give them all credit for that, but we know how we can play, too."
Coming off a road sweep at Grants Pass, 1-0 and 5-3, the Grizzlies (13-8) hoped to maintain that momentum on Tuesday to earn their fifth straight victory.
Rogan supplied the first spark for his team with an eight-pitch at-bat that turned into a slicing double to the left-center gap. Ashland built on that with a sacrifice bunt by Vince Cammarota and Fredrickson followed with a sharp single past a diving Taylor Raff at shortstop for a 1-0 lead off starter Micah Brown.
Glick allowed a leadoff single by Taylor Raff but that was negated moments later when the Tornado wasn't on the same page and Raff, who was stealing on the play, was thrown out trying for third base on Austin Zavala's sacrifice bunt.
That one inning seemed to sum things up perfectly for both teams, with Ashland able to come through when it mattered most while North Medford (16-5) struggled to find the right rhythm.
"We're a better team than what we showed today," said North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe, whose team is ranked No. 2 in the 6A coaches poll. "We just didn't have a good approach at the plate today and didn't come prepared."
Glick certainly forced the Tornado into needing to make adjustments with good pop on his fastball combined with some frozen batter moments when he went offspeed. Typically a closer — Glick entered the game having thrown only 111/3 innings with two saves and a 1-0 record in relief — the right-hander struck out seven with three hits allowed and two walks in six innings.
"Carter Glick pitched a heckuva game," Fredrickson said of Ashland's top catcher. "He hasn't really pitched all year more than 40 pitches. To be able to come in and start a game like that and pitch against a team like that, who has beaten so many good pitchers this year, that's a great game."
Especially considering Carroll was slated to start on the mound against North Medford up until early this morning.
"(Carroll) sent me a text message about 7 o'clock this morning saying he was sick," said Ashland head coach John Wallace, "so I sent Carter a text in class and said, 'Can you give me three good innings, we need you on the bump,' and he gave us six great innings. He was just unbelievable and stepped up and seized the moment and really pitched well for us today."
North Medford finally broke through in the bottom of the third with the tying run when Troy Fowler drew a one-out walk and moved to third on a stolen base and passed ball. With two outs, Zavala slapped an RBI single past shortstop Aaron Scott to make it 1-all.
Both pitchers found their groove over the next two innings but Ashland used a pair of leadoff walks by Rogan and Cammarota in the sixth to set the table for the deciding runs. With Brown still on the mound, Fredrickson lifted an outside pitch down the right field line for a two-run double and 3-1 advantage.
"I just got the barrel to it," he said. "I'd been working in batting practice and had a good round (going opposite field). I saw it off the bat and knew it was fair but I didn't know where it was, I was just running."
While Fredrickson may not have followed the ball, its placement certainly brought a smile to Wallace's face.
"We knew that runs were going to be tough to come by today," said the first-year coach, "so when we got guys on we did our best to get them over and we were able to clutch up and drive those runs home."
Christian Gillis came on in relief and got two strikeouts to limit the damage, and North Medford found a way to scratch back with a run in the bottom of the sixth when Raff reached safely on a throwing error by Fredrickson and scored on a groundout by Zavala.
David Crofton supplied the hardest hit of the day two batters later when he one-hopped the center field fence for a two-out double, but Glick struck out Hayden Evans on three pitches to end the threat.
North's attempt to send the game into extra innings really didn't get off the ground in the seventh against Fredrickson, who hit Josh Berman with one out but induced a fielder's choice and a strikeout to close the game.
"We told them that down our two senior guys it's going to be a challenge," said Wallace, "but with a great challenge comes great opportunity and we were able to make the most of that and get a win today."
"We're starting to build our momentum and we're playing against the best in the state," he added. "These 6A teams down here are really good and we're hoping that playing well against them and playing close games like this is really going to help our chances in the playoffs."
On the flip side, North Medford seemed determined to use its second loss this season to Ashland as a reality check.
"We have to go back to work and come back to practice with better intent and more focus and understanding of what it takes," said Wolfe. "Ashland's a good team but we should be able to compete better."
Ashland 100 002 0 — 3 5 1
North Medford 001 001 0 — 2 3 1
Glick, Fredrickson (7) and Cammarota, N. Scott (7); Brown, Gillis (6) and Zavala. W — Glick (2-0). L — Brown (2-2). S — Fredrickson (1). 2B — A: Rogan, Fredrickson; NM: Crofton.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry