Freshman shortstop Aaron Scott broke to his right, snagged the ball with a sweeping backhand then in one graceful motion slung the ball across his body and across the field to beat Grants Pass designated hitter Connor Lauffenburger by a half-step at first base.
The spectacular play drew oohs and ahhhs from the fans braving the cold at North Mountain Park.
Now, if only the Grizzlies could make the routine plays, too.
Ashland continued to struggle on defense, committing five errors, including four by the infield, and Grants Pass capitalized enough to pull out a 7-2 nonconference victory on Tuesday.
The setback dropped the Grizzlies to 0-4 and led to a postgame players-only meeting spearheaded by senior pitcher Jamie Flynn. The subject was focus.
"We need to keep our intensity up, and our focus," said third baseman Eric Carlson, who was 2-for-4 at the plate. "One thing we're doing is we're joking around too much, and we're not focused as much as we should be. We're just not keeping our passion for the game right now. So, we're going to work on that and it starts in practice. So we're going to start (today)."
The mistake-filled performance gives the Grizzlies 13 errors in four games, an ugly collection of bobbled grounders and errant throws that has made life difficult for Ashland's pitching staff.
Not that Grants Pass and starting pitcher Chris Ingledue needed much help Tuesday. The right-hander, coming back from only four days rest, held the Grizzlies to two runs on four hits in six innings to pick up the win. He struck out three and walked two, and wiggled out of a two-on, one-out jam unscathed in the third when Flynn and Carlson flew out back-to-back.
The Cavemen added one run in the fourth and two in the fifth — aided by an Ashland error in each inning — to put the Grizzlies away.
"(Ingledue) is one of those guys who when he takes the ball we expect to have an opportunity to win and he gave us that opportunity today," Grants Pass head coach Brian Diatte said. "I thought Ashland hit him hard at times, we just had the at-em balls. They hit a couple balls right at us and that allowed us to leave (Ingledue) there a little longer."
Already nursing a 1-0 lead, Grants Pass began to pull away in the third when two quick errors snowballed into three runs. Starting pitcher Jack Carroll gave Justin Spinner a free pass with a wild throw to first to start the inning, and moments later Easton Bents reached on another poor throw from second. That set the table for Chris Leenknecht, who doubled over the head of Ashland right fielder Bryce Rogan to give the Cavemen a 3-0 lead.
Carroll retired the next two batters on groundouts, but with two outs Hayden Chandler sliced a single to shallow center to score Leenknecht and make it 4-0.
"It's early in the season so they're struggling a little bit there just not seeing enough live action," Ashland head coach John Wallace said. "But I also think that there are a lot of new guys on this team that haven't played together yet and a lot of new faces — younger, older. Right now, we can't figure out a way to come together as a team. That's the biggest issue. We just gotta come together and play as a team and we could solve a lot of those errors."
Carroll was tagged with the loss after surrendering seven runs, five earned on 10 hits. He struck out two and walked one in five innings of work. Carter Glick pitched the last two innings for Ashland and held the Cavemen scoreless on two hits, striking out three.
Carlson and Steen Fredrickson (2-for-3) were the only Grizzlies with multiple hits. Fredrickson's two-run double down the right-field line accounted for Ashland's only runs of the game.
The Grizzlies saved their most serious rally for the bottom of the seventh, when GP reliever Cody Ekwall plunked two batters and gave up a single by Bryce Rogan to load the bases with one out. That prompted Diatte to replace Ekwall with Josh D'Amico, who induced back-to-back flyouts by Ryan Bottimore and Carlson to end the game.
Ashland has a golden opportunity to grab its first win Thursday against a Phoenix team that was winless last season but is off to a 2-0 start this year.
"We just need to start playing fundamental baseball and enjoy the game," Carlson said. "Right now, it seems like we're too tense and too nervous to come play in front of our home crowd. We just need to loosen up and enjoy the game like we do during summer ball. Have fun."
"From Day 1, we've been preaching that we have to eliminate the free ones," Wallace said. "Walks and errors will kill us and that's been the story so far. We've been giving the other team too many extra outs and they've been able to take advantage of it."
Grants Pass 103 120 0 — 7 12 2
Ashland 000 002 0 — 2 5 5
Ingledue, Ekwall (7) and Leenknecht; Carroll, Glick (6) and Glick, N. Scott (6). W — Ingledue. L — Carroll (0-1). 2B — GP: Leenknecht; A: Fredrickson. 3B — GP: VanEss.