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PENZA: Pilots show flashes that good times are ahead

It’s hard to believe a roster being younger than the one that the Ashland High School varsity baseball team rolled out there this spring, but that was the case for the Ashland Pilots this summer.

It just so happened that pretty much all of those same Grizzlies were Pilots.

Convenient for getting to know the names, right?

A young group that entered the high school season opener in mid-March with very little experience on the varsity level has gone on to play a total of 54 games over the past four months, the final two coming in a doubleheader on Wednesday afternoon against the South Medford Colts.

While it’s true that there weren’t many wins over the course of the both the high school and American Legion seasons, the biggest thing is that some of Ashland’s most important players for the next couple of years got the kind of game experience both at the high school and legion level that they needed.

And along they way, they’ve shown that they can play a little bit of ball, too.

Being as young as Ashland was at the start of spring practices, going through some growing pains seemed like a given. There weren’t just holes to fill, but also inexperienced players trying to establish themselves at a level where they had to learn on the fly.

“We’re a young team,” Ashland High head coach Nick Hall said to me back in March. “We’ve had some pretty strong senior classes here in the past, so what we’re really looking for is just to see some younger guys step up and fill some roles that are there.”

The positive is that as you look back at it now, a good portion of those younger guys that Hall — a state champion during his playing days at Ashland High — and Pilots head coach Oz Sailors had to work with this year have shown that they have gotten better from early March to now late July.

There’s talent, whether it’s on the mound with Eli Westrick or in the field and at the plate with the likes of Nick Buccino, Evan McLennan, Nathan Carter and Luke Brown.

There are pieces to build around, definitely, and even though there weren’t a whole lot of wins to speak of, the foundation for upcoming Grizzly and Pilot teams is there.

The next part of it all is the step forward to being more of a player in the Midwestern League come springtime 2019.

That doesn’t necessarily mean winning a conference title because that would be a giant leap or two after a one-win season. But more about the Grizzlies showing that they were like the Pilots team this summer that really showed that it could play a solid brand of baseball when they are taking care of their own business.

And, in the weeks and months leading up to the 2019 season getting underway, Hall probably won’t be worrying about having so many young guys trying to fill the void of upperclassmen who have moved on. Instead, there will be the positive thoughts about pretty much every player from the 2018 team coming back.

Plus, there are also the few players who were part of the Pilots’ roster this summer that are about to be freshman at Ashland High.

It’s a different kind of situation that was the case at the beginning of the calendar year.

The players who needed to get experience under their belts have gotten just that over the last four months.

Now, it’s about seeing where they go from here.

And with some of the talent that was flashed as the Pilots’ season rolled on toward it’s conclusion, some more good things quite possibly could be in store at North Mountain Park.

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

Larry Stauth Jr./For the Daily TidingsAshland Pilots starting pitcher Eli Westrick celebrates with coaches Oz Sailors (left) and Daryn McLennnan (right) after a stellar defensive inning against North Jackson Royals.