Jamie Flynn isn't going to try to convince anybody that Ashland should be ranked No. 1 in Class 5A baseball. Not with his words, anyway.
But the Grizzlies' senior ace pitcher believes that Ashland can make a pretty good argument on the field over the next 10 days.
"We have something to prove, obviously," Flynn said, "because our record wasn't the best in the state. But however the power rankings work, we got away with it. Now we really have to prove that that's what we are."
Ashland's first opportunity to do that comes Wednesday, when the Grizzlies will host Madison in the first round of the 16-team state tournament. The first pitch is scheduled to be thrown at 4:30 p.m. at North Mountain Park. The matchup provides an interesting ranking versus record showdown — Ashland, at 14-10, has been ranked No. 1 by the OSAA most of the season; Madison (16-9) has a better record, but at No. 23 is the lowest-ranked team to qualify for state.
The Ashland-Madison winner will play either eighth-ranked Dallas (19-6) or 17th-ranked Wilsonville (14-12) on Friday. If it's the Grizzlies, they'll host that quarterfinal game.
In other first-round games: The Dalles-Wahtonka (18-7) will host Corvallis (15-11), Bend (17-7) will host Pendleton (10-15), Redmond (18-6) will host Liberty (15-11), defending state champion Wilson (20-5) will host West Albany (16-9), Sherwood (20-6) will host Crescent Valley (19-7) and Hermiston (16-6) will host North Eugene (10-16).
The Grizzlies had won six games in a row and 13 of 16 before dropping a pair of games to South Medford on May 11, but rebounded to beat Klamath Union three days later, 6-0, in the regular-season finale. During its late-season surge Ashland picked up some impressive wins — two over 6A No. 1 North Medford, another over 6A No. 6 Crater — utilizing a formula that's served the Grizzlies' well in recent years: great starting pitching combined with big-mistake-free defense and timely hitting.
On the mound, Flynn (5-3) has been the workhorse and for the second year in a row will be Ashland's first-round playoff starter. The senior right-hander who boasts a mid-80s fastball enters the postseason with a 2.59 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 26 walks in 54 innings.
Should Flynn struggle or tire, sophomore Steen Fredrickson or even junior catcher Carter Glick may get the call.
"Our pitching's going to carry us, but it's only going to carry us so far," Ashland head coach John Wallace said.
Glick is the staff's wildcard. After starting the season as the full-time catcher he slowly proved his worth on the mound and finished the regular season with the best ERA on the team (0.95) among pitchers who threw at least 20 innings.
Glick probably won't see much action on the mound in the postseason, however, since his work behind the plate is crucial to the Grizzlies' success.
"Carter does so much for us defensively that it's really hard to take him out from behind the plate," Wallace said. "He controls the game, he receives well, gives us strikes, and he's got a great arm so he can control the running game, too. He might be a long relief guy, even come in and get a save."
Offensively, the Grizzlies have proven to be dangerous at the top of their order but haven't received a ton of production out of the back half. Fredrickson leads the team with a .384 batting average and .471 on-base percentage, while leadoff hitter Bryce Rogan is batting .348 with a team-high .551 slugging percentage.
The Grizzlies don't boast a lot of power — they've managed only four home runs — but find gaps well, led by Rogan's 11 doubles.
Madison, the runner-up in the Portland Interscholastic League, will be trying to pull off a first-round shocker after beating Willamette 9-2 in a play-in game Friday. The Senators had a seven-game winning streak earlier in the year, but had lost three straight before knocking off the Wolverines.
The Grizzlies are weary of looking past Madison.
"We seem to play better when we're an underdog and the coaches want us to have the mentality that we are the underdog," Flynn said.
That's a tough sell. Ashland has advanced to the state quarterfinals six years in a row and is gunning for its third championship game appearance since 2008.
"I mean, you've got to think about every round because in a single-elimination tournament, you overlook somebody, you slip up, have one bad day and you're done," Wallace said. "So, we've got to take it game by game. We've been preaching that, but the ultimate goal is we want to get to the state championship."