Ian Kendall wanted to pitch just one more inning in Saturday's intrasquad game, but was denied by Ashland Grizzlies head coach Don Senestraro.

Ian Kendall wanted to pitch just one more inning in Saturday's intrasquad game, but was denied by Ashland Grizzlies head coach Don Senestraro.

Likely, Kendall got over it quickly when he found out why.

The junior right-hander will start for the defending state champions today when they host Crescent Valley in the second round of the Class 5A state baseball playoffs. The first pitch of the round of 16 game is scheduled to be thrown at 4:30 p.m. at North Mountain Park, where the No. 2-ranked Grizzlies (21-4) are 10-0 this season.

"Everyone's always going to be nervous no matter what they say," Kendall said. "I've had butterflies all weekend just thinking about the game."

Kendall, a junior, got the nod over fellow starters Charlie Sebrell and Garrett Tygerson, both seniors. Of Ashland's three starters Kendall is the least experienced, but he's undefeated (5-0) and leads that group in both ERA (1.04) and strikeouts (57).

"It's the hardest decision I probably had to make all year," Senestraro said. "I have three guys that can get it done — I know that. I feel more comfortable with Ian pitching at home than I do on the road, not that I don't feel comfortable with him pitching on the road, but "¦ he's only a junior, and last year he didn't pitch much."

Senestraro added that he won't hesitate to pull Kendall at the first sign of trouble. In that case, Sebrell, who has a 2.29 ERA, will likely be the first Grizzly out of the bullpen.

Ashland will be looking to duplicate last year's dramatic run through the postseason, which included a stunning seventh-inning comeback at North Eugene in the quarterfinals and a clutch 4-3 win over Thurston in the finals.

Despite their status as the defending champs and an 18-game winning streak that helped the Grizzlies clinch their second straight Southern Sky Conference title, Sebrell said it would be foolish for the Grizzlies to think of themselves as favorites.

"The whole year we've just kind of preached being the hardest working team," he said. "Everything happens for a purpose and you can only control so much. Everyone's just going to give it 100 percent and be as dedicated as they can and if it comes it comes and if it doesn't, it doesn't."

"We know what it's like and we know that it's going to take luck to win," added Tygerson, "just like it did last year with Sam (Gaviglio) hitting the home run against North Eugene."

Crescent Valley (15-12), the No. 3 seed out of the Mid-Willamette Conference, is also aware of the luck factor. The 12th-ranked Raiders beat Madras 4-3 in the first round on Friday, scoring the winning run in the sixth inning on a first-and-third double steal play that the White Buffaloes failed to properly defend.

An Ashland scout, assistant coach Charlie Hall, was in attendance and the Grizzlies reviewed his report Saturday. They expect a hard-fought game against a well-rounded team that plays in one of the state's most competitive conferences.

"They're a good team, they're really balanced," Tygerson said. "They don't have any standout players. They're a team that's really fundamental. They do the small things. "¦ Their pitcher (Logan Cooper) throws about 82 or 83 (mph), so that's what we're going to be hitting (Monday) for batting practice."

The Grizzlies also do the small things well — they have laid down 12 sacrifice bunts compared to just three for their opponents — but have routinely buried teams by doing the big things. Ashland bats .388 as a team with a .572 slugging percentage and has 16 home runs despite playing its home games at North Mountain, where bombs frequently turn into routine fly outs.

Kendall (.484 batting average, team-high five home runs) is the Grizzlies' most dangerous slugger, but there isn't a weak spot in the lineup. Tygerson is batting .405 and leads the team with 31 RBIs, senior second baseman Hayden Miller is batting .438 with 12 doubles and junior shortstop Nick Hall is batting .355 with 28 RBIs, two home runs and a team-high three triples.

"We've been facing some low 80s (pitchers) this year "¦ so hopefully we can just put the ball in play, get some hits, and if we need to do some small ball like bunting guys around we'll do that," Kendall said.

Ashland is coming off its first loss in nearly two months, a 5-0 setback to Sheldon, a Class 6A team, last Tuesday.

The Ashland-Crescent Valley winner will play either North Eugene or Cleveland in Friday's quarterfinal round. If Ashland and Cleveland move on, that game will be played in Ashland. If it's Ashland and North Eugene, the Grizzlies will have to travel to face the Highlanders for the second year in a row.

Either way, the Grizzlies are as confident as ever.

"I think we're hitting our stride perfectly right now," Tygerson said, "just like last year."

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