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Despite being tabbed the favorite to claim this year's Southern Sky Conference baseball crown, Ashland still felt like it had something to prove Tuesday at Anhorn Field.
If there's a team that has had the Grizzlies' number in the spring, it's been Crater High.
But all the questions of whether Ashland could take that next step were answered in convincing fashion Tuesday as the visiting Grizzlies twice rallied to take both ends of an SSC doubleheader, 5-2 and 7-3.
"Coming here and getting two wins is huge for us," said fourth-year Ashland coach Don Senestraro. "This group of boys, as good as they are, they've never beaten Crater during the high school year. This was big for us. We came here wanting to get one and we got out of here with two."
The sweep put Ashland atop the league standings at 2-0 in conference and 9-2 overall. Crater dropped to 2-2 in SSC action and 8-5 overall.
The Grizzlies picked up a pair of solid pitching performances on Tuesday, with Charlie Sebrell tossing a three-hitter with six strikeouts in the opener and Sam Gaviglio allowing four hits with six strikeouts in Game 2.
Sebrell was especially impressive, walking only one batter and facing only five batters over the seven-inning minimum to improve his record to 4-0.
"We've got a tough pitching staff and Charlie's a great guy," said Senestraro. "He hits his spots and is getting stronger. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league."
It took a little while for Sebrell to find his groove, however, and the Comets came close to putting Ashland on its heels from the get-go Tuesday.
After Craig Kathol drew a one-out walk in the bottom of the first inning and advanced to second on a wild pickoff attempt by the junior right-hander, Zach Boskovich followed with an RBI single to give Crater a 1-0 lead.
The Comets looked to be in position to put more pressure on when Boskovich later took off on a steal attempt toward second base. Unfortunately for Crater, No. 4 hitter Bryce Peila was called for interference after veering into the path of catcher Lewis Sebrell and called out on the play, with Boskovich sent back to first base.
Instead of having one out and a runner in scoring position with one of Crater's top hitters at bat, all of a sudden it was two outs with Boskovich back on first.
"That could've been a big inning for them," said Senestraro. "You never know what happens from there, and then you start having doubts getting into your players' minds, so that was huge."
Ashland quickly took advantage, scoring four runs in the top of the second off starter Bruce Sanford. Leadoff singles by Sam Gaviglio and Luke Jannusch gave the Grizzlies hope for a big inning, but Sanford regrouped to gain two quick outs for Crater. The burly right-hander was undone one pitch later, however, when his curveball struck No. 9 hitter Nick Hall to load the bases.
Sanford then got Max Gordon off balance and induced a check-swing grounder toward third that he quickly pounced on but threw high to first baseman Steven Ruvalcaba.
One run scored on the seemingly innocent play, and the Grizzlies followed with a two-run single by Lewis Sebrell and an RBI single by Owen Baldrica to give Ashland a huge lift and a 4-1 advantage.
"That was the hit of the inning right there," said Crater coach Jay Campbell of Gordon's two-out dribbler. "That's what did us in."
It also didn't help Crater that the Comets went down in order in four of the next five innings. That same pattern returned in the nightcap, with Crater sending up more than four batters in an inning only three times.
"Offensively, we wanted to put a little pressure on them and we weren't able to do that," said Campbell. "You tip your hat to their pitching because offensively we didn't look too good today. You can't win if you only have seven hits in a doubleheader, I don't care who you're playing."
Boskovich provided almost half of the Comets' attack, going 3-for-6 with one run and one RBI in the twin bill. Ruvalcaba and Sanford each had seventh-inning singles in the opener, while Johnny Wood and Ryan Baxter each had a single in Game 2.
In comparison, Ashland had as many different players belt out a double in the nightcap (5) as Crater had players get a hit in the twin bill (5).
"I think we're still kinda searching for our identity," added Campbell. "We have the potential, but I don't see the urgency from the kids yet."
Crater managed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning of Game 2, but once again couldn't fend Ashland off as the Grizzlies used a three-run fifth inning to tie the contest at 3-all.
Garrett Tygerson had an RBI single and Gaviglio an RBI double for Ashland in the fifth, with the tying run scoring after Jordan Higbee's throw on a two-out grounder to third was high and wide of first base.
Crater was in position to answer in the bottom of the fifth when Wood reached safely to lead off the inning, but the senior was caught stealing second on a perfectly timed pitchout by Gaviglio to Lewis Sebrell.
"He has got a knack for that because I don't even call pitchouts, he does," said Senestraro of his catcher. "The kid has been playing so long, he's just got a sixth sense about that."
Peila then popped up to Sebrell, who made a fine catch in foul territory on the edge of the backstop, and the potential Comet rally was squashed.
A leadoff double by Ian Kendall in the sixth set up another run for the Grizzlies, and Ashland secured the sweep with two more runs in the seventh when Gordon slapped a two-run single up the middle after an error by Higbee and two walks by reliever Haden Bighouse had loaded the bases.
"These guys have won at all levels and they're the most resilient team that I've ever coached," said Senestraro. "They don't get down if you score a few runs on them."
All but one Ashland starter had a hit in the nightcap, with Gordon and Tygerson leading the way with 2-for-3 efforts. Hayden Miller joined Tygerson, Gaviglio, Kendall and Baldrica in notching doubles against Kathol in Game 2.
Ashland 040 000 — "" 5 6 3
Crater 100 000 — "" 2 — 3
C. Sebrell and L. Sebrell; Sanford and Boskovich. W &
C. Sebrell (4-0). L &
Ashland 010 031 2 "" 7 11 3
Crater 200 100 0 "" — 4 4
Gaviglio and L. Sebrell; Kathol, Bighouse (7) and Boskovich. W &
Gaviglio (3-0). L &
Kathol (3-1). 2B &
A: Tygerson, Miller, Gaviglio, Kendall, Baldrica; C: Boskovich.
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Grizz go two-for-two
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