NORTH BEND &
Their pitching staff depleted, the Ashland Pilots looked to a baby-faced up-and-comer playing in his first American Legion A state tournament to keep their championship hopes alive.
The plan was to survive for another inning or two then bring in somebody with more experience, but Brady Thomas had another idea.
"I went up to coach (Royce Miller) and I said, 'I want to keep going,"" said Thomas, a sophomore-to-be at Ashland High. "He's like, 'you're pitching good.' So they just let me keep going.
"I'm glad they did."
Thomas held North Medford (39-16) to one run on two hits over the final four innings and got plenty of help from a clutch defense as the Pilots (34-9) stormed out of the loser's bracket to knock off the Mavericks 5-4 and claim Ashland's second straight American Legion A state championship Tuesday at Clyde Allen Field.
Ian Kendall and tournament MVP Garrett Tygerson each belted home runs and Ashland's defense came through with several run-saving stops as the Pilots advanced to the regional tournament in Anacortes, Wash., despite being out-hit 10-8.
Tygerson was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and also pitched the first five innings for Ashland, which won three straight elimination games, including a 12-8 victory over Roseburg earlier Tuesday.
"We could stand here and analyze this thing forever, but the fact is we had no idea we were going to get here," said Miller, who will not be able to travel with the team to Anacortes. "I mean, we didn't even know that we would get to the state tournament this year and to have them come out and play this way, it's going to take a while for that to soak in because a young group like this shouldn't be here. Somehow they said, 'We're going to do it,' and they did it."
Thomas picked up the save against North Medford after nearly getting pulled in the eighth inning. But with the game and the Pilots' season hanging in the balance, Thomas, who pitched for Ashland High's junior varsity team in the spring, convinced Ashland's coaching staff to stick with him.
"We have just been impressed with him every week, the building that he has done &
not just physically but mentally," Miller said. "And today, we were about ready to pull him out but he was pretty confident. He wanted to stay in. And then I saw a smile come over his face and he even chuckled and laughed a little bit in a very tense situation and I thought, 'That's our kid right there. He's going to go the whole way.'"
He did, but needed plenty of support to get there.
Kendall blasted his 11th homer of the year, a two-run shot, to help Ashland take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first and the Pilots never trailed again, though North Medford threatened throughout.
The Colts' best chance to take over may have come in the eighth, when Bradey Shipley's sacrifice bunt advanced runners to second and third with one out. Chris Bradshaw followed with a fly out to right that was deep enough to score a run, but not break the game open. Then came the momentum stopper &
a rope by Mavs' cleanup hitter Stephen Cole that was hauled in, basket style, by Ashland center fielder Max Gordon.
The play, made in a dead sprint, allowed the Pilots to escape with its lead intact and was a fitting end to North's most promising rally &
Ashland also got a diving stop by first baseman Luke Stone that saved a run in the fifth, two great plays by Kendall at third that prevented at least one more run and another running catch by Gordon that squelched the Mavs' fourth-inning charge.
North Medford head coach Brett Wolfe said Gordon's catches were the most important plays of the game.
"He's got tremendous speed and reads the ball real well, probably better than most people, so I think he was the difference in this ball game," Wolfe said. "He's a great player and made catches. That made a huge difference in this game. Instead of being down by one in the ninth I think (we would have been) up by two or three. I think it's that big."
Shipley's RBI single in the second cut Ashland's lead to 3-2, but the Pilots scored an insurance run in the third when Gordon came home on a wild pitch by North starter Mark Cokenour.
Shipley went 3-for-3 to lead the Mavericks' offense, while Bradshaw was 2-for-2 with two RBIs.
Cokenour gave up four runs on three hits in 2 2-3 innings before being relieved by Shipley, who held the Pilots to one run on five hits the rest of the way.
Cole's sacrifice fly cut Ashland's lead to 4-3 in the fourth. Tygerson's solo shot to right-center in the fifth proved to be the winning run for the Pilots. It was Tygerson's third homer of the tournament and 12th on the season.
"I didn't feel like I hit it as hard as I wanted to &
it just barely went over &
but I'll take it, of course," Tygerson said.
Ashland earned a title shot earlier in the day by overcoming an 8-7 deficit in the seventh inning to beat Roseburg Pepsi (25-12). The Pilots scored two runs on two hits, including an RBI double off the wall by Tygerson, to take the lead for good in the bottom of the seventh then added three insurance runs in the eighth, two on Nick Hall's double to right.
Thomas was credited with the win against Roseburg, though he only pitched the sixth and seventh innings. Stone started the game and allowed seven runs on nine hits in five innings. Tygerson pitched the last two innings to pick up the save.
"We have a good team so our goals are set high and we just raised them even higher," Kendall said, "so maybe we can do well at the regional tournament, too."
North Medford — 110 100 — 010 &
4 10 1
Ashland — — — — 301 — 010 — 00x &
5 8 0
Cokenour, Shipley (3) and Pine; Tygerson, Thomas (6) and Hegdahl. W &
Tygerson (10-0). L &
Cokenour. HR &
A: Kendall (11), Tygerson (12).
Roseburg — — — 010 411 100 &
— 8 13 4
Ashland — — — — 203 200 — 23x &
12 11 2
Ampi, Davis (4), Tovey (8); Stone, Thomas (6), Tygerson (8) and Hegdahl. W &
Thomas (5-2). 2B &
R: Martin, Case, Ampi; A: Kendall, Tygerson, Hall. HR &
Pilots repeat as state champions
NORTH BEND &