Maybe the OSAA rankings were skewed to favor southern Oregon after all.
Or maybe Robbie Heiberg was just that good.
Madison's crafty junior pitcher made a pretty good case for both Wednesday, tossing a two-hitter to help the Senators, ranked 23rd in the final OSAA rankings, stun No. 1 Ashland 4-1 in a first-round Class 5A playoff game Wednesday at North Mountain Park.
Heiberg, a 5-foot-7 right-hander who was recently named the Portland Interscholastic League player of the year, held the Grizzlies scoreless on one hit through six innings before Steen Fredrickson doubled down the third-base line to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Fredrickson eventually scored the Grizzlies' only run on a fielder's choice ground-out, but Heiberg remained in total control and two batters later coaxed a dribbler to second by Eric Carlson to end the game and advance the Senators to the state quarterfinals.
Madison (18-9), which placed second in the PIL, next faces Wilsonville for a spot in the semifinals. Ashland (15-11) failed to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.
"We've always been that underdog, kind of upset-minded team," Heiberg said. "We have Wilson, the defending 5A state champions, in our league and going against them I think really helped us develop that underdog mentality. This is the first time Madison has been in the playoffs since 2002 and it's going to be really big for the community over there and I think we're doing a lot of this for them."
Ashland ace Jamie Flynn (5-4) was the tough-luck loser after holding Madison to two hits and striking out seven in five innings of work, but he also issued four walks, hit a batter and didn't get much help by the Grizz defense. Sophomore Steen Fredrickson, who had Ashland's only two hits of the game, surrendered one unearned run on zero hits over the last two innings.
The Grizzlies committed three errors and each helped the Senators first seize control then pull away.
In the fourth, Madison catcher Aiden Fetters reached on a throwing error by Ashland freshman shortstop Aaron Scott, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Kyle Crandall's poke single up the middle.
The Senators added two insurance runs in the fifth thanks in part to another Grizzly miscue. This time, Ashland third baseman Steen Fredrickson bobbled a hard grounder with two outs before making an errant throw to first, allowing Jonah Lutton to score from third. Flynn plunked the next batter and Adam Wright followed with a line drive that appeared to scrape the third-base line to drive in another run and give the Senators a 3-0 cushion.
Things got even more bleak for the Grizzlies in the sixth when Max Tuttle scored from third on Lutton's grounder to short, sliding safely under Carter Glick's tag.
With Heiberg cruising, Madison's 4-0 lead looked more like 40-0. Utilizing a wicked slider that the Grizzlies never solved, Heiberg (10-2) worked from ahead in the count most of the day and entered the seventh inning having only thrown 70 pitches. He needed 24 more to close out the game and clinch the biggest upset of the first round.
"(Heiberg) was good, he pounded the zone, he threw mainly a slider but he could locate his breaking ball and he had good stuff on his fastball when he needed to come with that," Ashland head coach John Wallace said. "We knew what was coming and were trying to make the adjustment, but he was a competitor. He battled all game and really kept us at bay."
The Grizzlies nearly jumped on Heiberg and the Senators in the first inning but let a golden opportunity slip away. After Bryce Rogan drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the first Fredrickson hammered a one-out double into the left-center field gap. The hit, which turned out to be the hardest contact of the day for the Grizzlies, should have put runners at second and third with one out but Rogan slipped on the soggy turf after overrunning third and was caught in a rundown. Heiberg then fanned Jack Carroll, getting him to swing at a full-count slider to give the Senators the first momentum shift of the game.
"It's huge," Heiberg said of his first-inning escape. "Any time you give up a run in the first inning it sets the tone for the rest of the game. The rest of the team really feeds off the pitcher's energy and if the pitcher's up high they're going to be playing well."
Heiberg dominated from that point on, retiring the next 14 batters before Rogan snapped the streak with a four-pitch walk with two outs in the sixth. Madison's defense did its part, too, going error-free on 10 ground balls and four flies, including a rope by Flynn that was hauled in by a diving Lutton to start the fifth.
"I can't say that we've been fantastic at hitting off-speed stuff all year," Flynn said. "Heiberg gave us one (fastball) and it was late in the count and it was where he wanted it, and so he did a good job. We never preached attack first-pitch curveball, so it's basically a free strike for them and the rest is history."
Madison 000 121 0 — 4 2 0
Ashland 000 000 1 — 1 2 3
Heiberg and Fetters; Flynn, Fredrickson (6) and Glick. W — Heiberg (10-2). L — Flynn (5-4). 2B — M: Wright; A: Fredrickson 2.