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Grizzlies lose heartbreaker

WILSONVILLE — The fifth-ranked Ashland Grizzlies came within a pitch of advancing to the OSAA Class 5A state baseball semifinals against the defending state champion Sherwood Bowmen, but couldn't finish.

Ashland led 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning with a full count and senior relief pitcher Ethan Schlecht on the mound. But Sherwood's Connor Munro came through in the clutch, drilling the next pitch into left field for a game-tying RBI. Sherwood's momentum continued in the bottom of the ninth as it loaded the bases, then scored when Schlecht hit the next batter with a 1-1 pitch to force home the winning run and give the Bowmen a 4-3 victory Friday.

It was a heartbreaking loss for the Grizzlies (17-10) and first-year head coach Paul Westhelle.

"When you play lots of games, you'll sometime's have some that have strange endings like this," Westhelle said. "Our kids played their hearts out, which is exactly what I expected them to do. They played a gutsy game, they have no reason to hang their heads and we had a great season. They represented the successful Ashland tradition of baseball proudly today."

The game was moved to Wilsonville High School and its artificial turf field after rain showers rendered Sherwood's home field unplayable. It started as a scoreless pitchers' duel the first two frames between Ashland junior left-hander Jack Carroll (five strikeouts, five hits allowed, three walks) and Sherwood's Riley Moore.

"I think we came out here ready to play our best," Westhelle said. "Jack gave it everything he's got and he did a terrific job on the mound. His pitch count got up near 100, so we had to take him out. (Schlecht) did a great job at the end, but we just couldn't pull out a win."

The fourth-ranked Bowmen (24-4), the Northwest Oregon Conference champion, took the initial lead with a two-run third. The Southern Oregon Hybrid champion Grizzlies came back in the fourth, capitalizing on a walk and two Bowmen errors to take the lead.

Schlecht drew a leadoff walk and two batters later scored on an error on a dropped third strike by Sherwood catcher Travis Dyer. Sophomore Bryce Rogan sprinted to first as Dyer overthrew Sherwood first baseman Nate Montgomery. Junior first baseman Jamie Flynn then reached base on another Bowmen error. Sophomore Eric Carlson then blasted a shot deep to center field for a two-run triple, giving Ashland a 3-2 advantage.

Stellar defense by Grizzlies' shortstop Schlecht prevented the Bowmen from answering in the bottom of the frame. Schlecht fielded a grounder, stepped on second base and threw to Flynn for the picture perfect 6-3 double play.

Two scoreless frames followed as the game continued into extra innings. Sherwood knotted it in the seventh, which was followed by a scoreless eighth with both teams playing solid defense.

After Ashland went down 1-2-3 in the top of the ninth, Sherwood capitalized on two walks and a hit batter to load the bags. Munro was again the catalyst for Sherwood. After fouling off three consecutive Schlecht full-count fastballs, Munro drew a walk. The next batter, Zak Taylor, was hit to give the Bowmen and coach Jon Strohmaier the win.

"It was a great game and the outcome could've gone either way," said Strohmaier. "(The Grizzlies) never gave up and we never gave up either. Their starting pitcher [Carroll] had an outstanding performance and he sure threw a heck of a game."

The contest marked the sixth straight quarterfinal appearance for Ashland.

It was the final high school contest for Ashland seniors Taylor Humphrey, Evan Westhelle-Grant,

Schlecht, Billy Hansen, Cory Milgram and Logan McKelvey. Humphrey, Westhelle-Grant, Schlecht,

Ashland 000 300 000 — 3 4 0

Sherwood 002 000 101 — 4 6 3

Carroll, Fredrickson (6), Schlecht (7) and Westhelle-Grant; Moore, Balfour (6) and Dyer. W — Balfour. L — Schlecht. 2B — S: Dailey; A: Schlecht. 3B — A: Westhelle Grant, Carlson, Milgram.