The Ashland High softball team begins its playoff march Tuesday, a trek the Grizzlies hope will end with a 5A state championship.




The third-ranked Grizzlies (21-4) seem to be peaking at just the right time, riding a five-game win streak into Tuesday's second-round matchup with No. 10 Century (19-8).




Century ousted Lebanon 9-4 in a first round game, but has struggled recently, losing three of its last four regular season games. Ashland head coach Misty Potochnick is confident her team can clear its first hurdle.




"If we put the ball in play and play our game, then we're a better team than they are," Potochnick said. "It was nice to have that feeling after watching them."




Potochnick describes the Jaguars as a true hitting team that doesn't attempt to play small ball because they lack speed. She went on to call their pitching good, but not dominating.




She doesn't plan to change anything for the postseason and believes the Grizzlies are physically capable of beating anyone. It all comes down to mental toughness.




"As you go further and further, you're going to get into just tighter and tighter games," Potochnick said. "More one-run games and I think they're going to come down to one play in those deep games. If we're just totally mentally ready and focused I think we can go a long way."




One-run games are nothing new to the Grizzlies who won six of seven one-run conference games this season. Shortstop Sarah Silbowitz (.409 batting average) played a major role in those wins, racking up three game-winning hits on the year.




While the battle-tested Grizzlies have come to expect big things from their leadoff hitter, their depth allows them to not rely on Silbowitz alone.




"She's been in that position a lot and come through," said Potochnick. "We always look to her bat but we've also got other kids that will step in there. That's I guess the great thing that we have."




Pitching and defense has been strong for the Grizzlies all year. Junior pitcher Bella Pribyl boasts a scary 0.72 earned run average after striking out 232 batters during the regular season.




Pribyl plans to continue with what she has done all year, although she admits she will be more nervous than usual.




"I find that I pitch better when I'm nervous," Pribyl said. "As soon as I get on the mound and start pitching it kind of calms me down. Just practice and doing this for so long is what helps me deal with it."




The winner of Tuesday's game will go on to face either North Eugene or Marshall. Pribyl believes her team has the tools to make a deep playoff run.




"We just have to pull it all together," Pribyl said. "We have to be mentally there and come to every game ready to play and know that this could be our last game and if we don't give it our all then we'll be going home. I think that physically we're there and we're ready and we have all the talent."




The Grizzlies trust their defense to keep them in games. Senior catcher Kylie Cantrell believes if their bats come to life, a trek to the state semifinals shouldn't be a problem.




"If we can hit like Ashland can, we should be able to make it into the final four," Cantrell said. "That's my goal. I wouldn't be satisfied with anything less."




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