His team reeling from a 4-1, Southern Sky-opening loss to Crater, coach Don Senestraro reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a tasty promise: a steak dinner for the Grizzlies, if they could put together a winning streak.

His team reeling from a 4-1, Southern Sky-opening loss to Crater, coach Don Senestraro reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a tasty promise: a steak dinner for the Grizzlies, if they could put together a winning streak.

The Grizzlies have been feasting ever since.

Ashland (13-3, 7-2 SSC) has won 10 games in a row since that April 3 setback, including a 14-1 beatdown of Crater (11-8, 6-3) on April 21, a 19-2 throttling of Mazama on April 18 and a 33-0 win over Marshfield on Saturday that included 13 — yes, 13 — extra-base hits by the Grizzlies.

While Ashland's pitching and defense has steadily improved during the streak, the team's most significant progress has come at the plate. The defending Class 5A state champions entered league play with a solid .331 team batting average and .494 slugging percentage while scoring an average of six runs per game. Those numbers would be a reason to celebrate for most coaches, but after Senestraro watched Crater's Craig Kathol hold the Grizzlies to one run on seven hits, the fifth-year Ashland coach decided it was time to hit the reset button.

"We talked about after that Crater game that maybe that was a good thing," Senestraro said. "It opened our eyes to a few things. We had really bad approaches at the plate that day. I knew we were going to be a good hitting team and we just kind floundered that day, so ever since then we've really put more emphasis on hitting in practice and getting better approaches at the plate."

That emphasis has paid off in a big way. Entering today's showdown with Crater, the Grizzlies have significantly increased their batting statistics in every major category. In some cases, the numbers are enough to make an opposing pitcher cower in fear. The Grizzlies are batting a jaw-dropping .395 as a team with a .600 slugging percentage and 12 home runs. They're averaging 10.9 runs per game, which ranks No. 2 in the Class 5A ranks behind only Corvallis.

The top of Ashland's lineup is particularly frightening. Lewis Sebrell (.414), Nick Hall (.389), Hayden Miller (.423), Garrett Tygerson (.434) and Ian Kendall (.478) have combined to hit 11 home runs while also adding between 19 and 24 RBIs apiece.

There's not much slippage, either. Nobody in Ashland's starting lineup is batting below .349, and one of the Grizzlies' top substitutes, Keali Cecil, is batting .360 with a .520 slugging percentage.

"We're on a roll and we're not letting up at all," said Hall, who hit his first-ever home run against Mazama on April 18 and added another three days later against Crater. "We're just trying to push hard and in practice we're pushing each other, and it's paying off."

Tygerson, who's tied with Kendall for the team lead with three home runs, said it comes down to practice.

"Our practice schedule has been Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, all hitting and then Thursday we do defense," he said. "I feel like that's really helping us hit. (The loss to Crater) was a reality check that we're not unbeatable."

Easily lost in Ashland's bombastic linescores is its dominance on the mound. The Grizzlies have allowed six runs in their last 10 games, a stretch that includes five shutouts. Kendall (3-0), Tygerson (4-2) and Charlie Sebrell (4-1) get most of the work, leading a staff that has a combined 1.30 ERA and 116 strikeouts against just 40 walks in 102 1-3 innings. If the heavy workload begins to take its toll on those three, the Grizzlies have a fourth ace to fall back on. In fact, Luke Stone, placed on any other SSC staff, would likely be the No. 1 starter. He's allowed one run in 13 innings with 10 strikeouts and one walk.

"Our pitching's outstanding," Senestraro said. "Three guys that can take control of the game — it makes it easy for me to call pitches over there. They can throw all their pitches for strikes. It's amazing."

Counting today, the Grizzlies have nine games remaining on their regular season schedule. After that, Ashland will turn its attention to the state tournament, which begins May 22 and wraps up June 6.

On paper, the Grizzlies of 2009 compare favorably to the Grizzlies of 2008, but Hall said such comparisons are premature.

"We're not going to be better," he said, "unless we win another state championship."

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