Amanda Good's eyes grow as big as softballs as she tries to explain what a Southern Sky Conference championship would mean to the Grizzlies.




"It's something that we've been hoping for all year," said the AHS third baseman.




That may be an understatement.




The Ashland High softball team goes for the first league title in program history Saturday, when the Grizzlies (19-4, 7-3 SSC) host longtime rival and defending state champion Crater (17-5, 7-3) at North Mountain Park.




The two teams enter the last league doubleheader of the their respective schedules tied for first place in the SSC standings. A sweep by either team would clinch the league championship and the SSC's top seed to state. A split would mean the teams would share the conference championship, but then play a one-game tie-breaker to determine the No. — seed. That game would be played in Ashland on Monday or Tuesday.




Both teams already have clinched playoff berths. So how important is that No. — seed? Very important this year. The SSC's No. — opens the playoffs at home on May 20, while the No. 2 will have to travel to face the No. 2 seed from the Northwest Oregon Conference.




"It's a big deal," Ashland head coach Misty Potochnick said. "We're playing for the conference title and a home game. There's a lot riding on the line and a lot for Crater, too. I think both teams will come out and give all they've got. It should be entertaining to watch."




In the last twin bill between the two teams, Ashland shut down Crater 6-0 in Game — but fell 2-1 in the second game, with the Comets' Emily Morrill driving in both runs on a pair of doubles.




Ashland, which has won three straight, is coming off a doubleheader sweep of Eagle Point that eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention and kept the Grizzlies in the league title hunt. Sarah Silbowitz provided key hits in both games, and enters Saturday with a .340 batting average, third on the team.




Ashland's offense is led by Samantha Gilbert, Good, Silbowitz and Kylie Cantrell. Gilbert leads the team in batting average (.382), home runs (3) and slugging percentage (.574), while Good is batting .370 with two home runs.




While hits are coming in spurts, pitching and defense have emerged as the Grizzlies' strengths. Ashland has held opponents to three runs or less in seven of its last eight games &

that includes a three-game stretch in which the Grizzlies gave up just one run.




Starting pitcher Bella Pribyl is 18-4 with a 0.98 ERA. She averages 10 strikeouts per seven innings and held Crater to seven hits and two runs in 13 innings back on April 19.




For that reason, Potochnick expects Ashland's ability to put runs on the board to be the deciding factor Saturday.




"We just need to hit the ball and put the ball in play," she said. "The second game against Crater (on April 19) we only had three hits, so that's kind of what it comes down to. We've been defensively strong, so it's just if we can hit the ball."




As far as strategy goes, Potochnick said Crater tried to beat Ashland by playing small ball in the last meeting. Ashland's defense was up to the challenge, however, and the Comets adjusted their strategy accordingly.




This time around, with history on the line, Potochnick said the Grizzlies have to be ready for anything.




"It's going to be tough to sweep another team that's good, but that's definitely our goal," she said, "and I think we have the ability to do so if we play our game."




Good agreed.




"It's something that we want so bad," she said. "We're definitely going to fight hard for it."




Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.