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In the hunt for a crown

First-base umpire Travis Reese signals safe on a close pickoff attempt on Ashland's Rocky Reeser while North Jackson's Brandon Willer watches the call. / Roy Musitelli — — — Hegdahl pitches, Rowe hits Pilots into state tournament championship —

EAGLE POINT ' Emergency starter Tim Hegdahl emerged as a stopper Monday afternoon for the Ashland Pilots.

Facing the host North Jackson Royals in an elimination game at the American Legion A baseball state tournament, the Pilots turned to Hegdahl, rarely a pitcher and rarer yet a starter, to prolong their season.

Backed by a prolific offense, Hegdahl answered the call by tossing a complete game in Ashland's 14-8 victory at The Yard at Eagle Point High School.

The Pilots (21-19 overall) move on to meet the West Albany Bulldogs (31-5), who have not lost in the tournament and whipped Ashland, 14-0 in five innings, on Friday.

The Pilots, 3-1 in the tourney, need two straight victories starting at noon today to wrestle the state championship away from West Albany. Tickets are &

36;5 for general admission and &

36;3 for students.

The Royals, made up of Eagle Point players, finished 27-19.

I knew it was gonna be a slugfest, said Ashland head coach Josh Hamik, who gave the ball to Hegdahl because his regular pitchers were unavailable due to rest or injury concerns. Timmy's not a starter ... and he went nine innings. If we wouldn't have made the errors, he would've only given up three, four runs. So he came through, big-time.

He didn't pitch at all during the high school year, so he's just a guy going out there that knows baseball, loves baseball, and getting it done.

Hegdahl, a 5-foot-10, 142-pound right-hander who usually plays second base, gave up nine hits and four earned runs. He struck out seven and walked one.

When I get out there and pitch, I really don't think about much, said Hegdahl, who graduated from Ashland High in June and also did his part in jump-starting the Pilots' attack with three singles and three runs scored in five at-bats.

I just wanna throw the ball to the spot that I'm supposed to.

Ashland took control immediately, scoring once in the bottom of the first and four more times in the second.

Chad Hegdahl, Tim's younger brother, was the primary producer in that surge, lacing an RBI single to center field in the first and smacking a two-run single up the middle in the second.

Despite the early 5-0 cushion, Tim Hegdahl said relief never set in.

I kind of thought that if we get a big lead, I could relax, but I really didn't feel any different, said Hegdahl, who counted Monday's start as his fourth this summer, sprinkled among a handful of relief appearances.

North Jackson made a game of it with four third-inning runs. Tyson Nelson's line drive to center was misplayed into a two-run double, and Mark Farrell crushed a two-run home run to left.

Undeterred, the Pilots answered with five runs in the bottom of the inning, although they received plenty of help from a shaky Royals defense, four walks and one hit batter.

Five batters and one run after Arron Nelson led off by reaching on an error, Bill Rowe's two-out fly ball to left-center was dropped by Casey Hedrick for a three-run error.

It probably should have been the left fielder's ball because we had (Hedrick) way over in right for (the left-handed hitting) Rowe, North Jackson head coach Tom Britton said. But Casey's real aggressive, and he usually comes up with that play.

That's kind of been our nemesis all year. ... We haven't been consistent making the routine plays.

Next, Chad Hegdahl belted a double past first base to score Rowe for the fourth of his five RBIs.

In the fifth, Ashland extended to a 12-4 advantage when Rowe followed Bryan Clevenger's leadoff single with a two-run homer to right.

I missed it, but I knew I had enough, said Rowe, a 6-3, 205-pounder who is headed to the University of California-Santa Barbara on a baseball scholarship next month. (Ryan Garrett) left a fastball a little up, and I don't get to see many of those.

That would be an understatement, for Rowe ' who was walked four times Monday, three of which were intentional ' is purposely avoided by most every opponent.

Nonetheless, the Class 4A first-team all-state selection from his final season at Ashland this spring has muscled 19 home runs this summer.

He gets walked at least half the time, said Hamik, who has coached the Pilots since the third-year program started. And any time they do pitch to him, it's a mistake.

North Jackson again bounced back by using two Ashland miscues to begin a four-run rally in the sixth.

Nelson's two-run double down the right-field line followed an RBI ground out by Ricky O'Callahan and a run-scoring infield single from Chris Boyd.

Tim Hegdahl retired the dangerous Garrett, coming off his freshman season at Oregon Tech, on a fly out to avert any further damage and retain a 12-8 lead.

The Pilots poured on two runs in the bottom of the inning for the final margin, as Hegdahl allowed just two base runners in the Royals' final three frames.

I don't fault our kids, said Britton, who has had three state champions (in succession from 1994-96) in his 22 years with North Jackson. They played hard. ... And if you score eight runs, you expect to win.

(Starter) Ron Depuy threw on two days' rest and didn't have his usual stuff. But there's no tomorrow, so we had to go with him, and he wanted the ball.

Ashland, which was the runner-up at last summer's Legion A state event, expects ' and desperately needs ' two all-around performances against West Albany today.

We need to hit like we normally do and get a few runs, said Rowe, whose squad made six errors in Friday's loss to the Bulldogs. But if we can just make the routine plays, we're gonna be fine.

North Jackson Royals ........ 004 004 000 ' 8 9 3

Ashland Pilots ................ 145 022 00x ' 14 13 3

Depuy, Garrett (3) and Garrett, O'Callahan (3); T. Hegdahl and Ross, J. Rowe (6). W ' T. Hegdahl. L ' Depuy. 2B ' NJ: Farrell, Nelson 2, Hedrick; A: C. Hegdahl. HR ' NJ: Farrell; A: B. Rowe.

First-base umpire Travis Reese signals safe on a close pickoff attempt on Ashland's Rocky Reeser while North Jackson's Brandon Willer watches the call. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune images