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Up to the challenge

Ashland left-hander Hegdahl pitches his best game of the season to knock off top-ranked North Medford in SOC split

— The hype on Ashland junior Chad Hegdahl has been there, but his pitching hadn't exactly lived up to its billing thus far this season.

Until Saturday.

All the left-hander apparently needed was a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

Facing the top-ranked team in the state in its home ballpark, Hegdahl found the setting surprisingly to his liking ' needing only 80 pitches to pin a 3-0 loss on North Medford in the opening game of a doubleheader at Miles Field.

The Black Tornado rallied for an 11-1, six-inning victory in Game 2, but the damage had already been done.

The opening-game loss marked North's first defeat in Southern Oregon Conference play, snapped a 15-game winning streak overall and was the first time the Tornado (19-2, 11-1 SOC) has been shut out all season.

All thanks to Hegdahl, who allowed only five hits with four strikeouts and was supported by three double plays.

North managed only four balls hit out of the infield against the returning first-team all-conference hurler.

That's a far cry from the norm for the Tornado, which entered the game tied for the school's single-season record with 19 home runs.

He was just getting us off-balance and picking us off one by one, North senior Dustin Butler said of Hegdahl. He was baiting us out there and we were taking it. It was brutal.

Saturday's win maintained the dominance Hegdahl has shown over North in his short high school career. As a sophomore last season, the lefty allowed no earned runs in 52/3 innings to edge North.

It's fun going against them because I know every one of their hitters, from 1-9, is really strong, said Hegdahl, who improved to 4-2 this season. I just took the approach that I had to get ahead of every batter, and I think I did that pretty well today.

The same couldn't be said for his counterpart, North senior Travis Glass. The right-hander got a rare start in SOC play and struggled out of the gate, hitting the first two batters of the game and then walking the third to load the bases.

Hegdahl followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 1-0, and Ben Dodds executed a perfectly placed squeeze bunt one pitch later to make it 2-0.

Both plays were a harbinger of things to come, with the Grizzlies playing their most complete game all season.

We really did the little things good today, said Hegdahl, who was 2-for-3 in Game 1. We got our bunts down, played good defense and made the most of our opportunities.

While a 2-0 score normally wouldn't hold up against the Tornado, it proved to be more than enough for Hegdahl, who got a little help from his over-zealous foes.

We weren't very disciplined at the plate, ninth-year North coach Brett Wolfe said of the opener. (Hegdahl) was throwing a little in, a little out, a little down, and we weren't very patient. He threw a good game, but we helped him out by chasing a lot of pitches.

Russ Vandell had two of the Tornado's five hits and one of only two singles that made it out of the infield.

Chad was ready to throw his best game and he did, said first-year Ashland coach Jason Robustelli. It just happened to be against the best team at the best time.

Saturday's split allowed Ashland (11-10, 7-5 SOC) to move closer to securing a berth in the state playoffs. The Grizzlies remain in third place behind North and Klamath Union (14-6, 7-3 SOC), which had its doubleheader with South Medford (8-11, 4-6 SOC) rain-delayed until Tuesday.

We've come out two weekends in a row and shown we can play excellent baseball, said Robustelli, whose team swept South on Tuesday. When we want to put it together, we put it together. It's just a matter of hunger and whether we really want it.

Despite his slow start, Glass settled down to keep the Tornado in the ballgame, only allowing an unearned run in the fourth after the two-run first.

He pitched well enough to win, Wolfe said of Glass, who gave up eight hits in seven innings. When you don't score any runs, it doesn't matter who you pitch.

Wolfe said Glass, who dropped to 4-1, got the opening-game start over Brett Timmerman to help prepare the first-year starter for a big-game setting.

We have three very good pitchers, and we're going to need all three of them for the (state) playoffs, said Wolfe. We were just trying to give Travis a different look out there.

The Tornado gave Ashland a different look in Game 2, scoring at least one run in all six innings to go with 14 hits in staving off a sweep.

Junior catcher Rob Folsom slapped a bases-loaded single in the sixth to close the game and keep his season-long, 21-game hitting streak alive.

Tyler Engle, Reese Lamson, Jimmy Ulrey, Vandell and Beau Hovland each had two hits to pace North, which kept the pressure on with 10 stolen bases.

Butler tossed a four-hitter to improve to 8-0.

FIRST GAME

Ashland....................................200 100 0 ' — 8 0

North Medford.........................000 000 0 ' 0 5 2

Hegdahl and Ross; Glass and Folsom. W ' Hegdahl (4-2). L ' Glass (4-1). 2B ' A: Stone, Hegdahl.

SECOND GAME

Ashland.......................................001 000 ' — 4 3

North Medford........................113 411 ' 11 14 2

Ross, Page (4), Weston (5) and Jorgensen, Ross (4); Butler and Folsom. W ' Butler (8-0). L ' Ross (2-2). 2B ' NM: Hovland, Ulrey, Engle. 3B ' NM: Engle.

Ashland junior Chad Hegdahl tosses a five-hitter in shutting out top-ranked North Medford in the first game of Saturday?s doubleheader. Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman