Freshman Nick Buccino delivered a walk-off two-run single with two out in the bottom of the eighth as Ashland rallied for a season-opening 4-3 victory over North Medford in nonleague prep baseball action Thursday at North Mountain Park.
After the Black Tornado took a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth on Zach Collins’ RBI single, the Grizzlies loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the frame before a force out at home and a strike out pushed Ashland to the brink of what would have been a heartbreaking defeat. That brought up the pinch-hitting Buccino, who laced Kasey Buchanan’s 1-1 offering up the middle to score Jesse Carroll from third and Matt O’Donnell from second.
“We don’t have a whole lot of depth and he’s definitely a kid who can swing the bat and he’s got a lot of talent,” Ashland coach Nick Hall said. “He was really the only (pinch-hitting) option we had and I just figured I might as well give him a chance, and he made the most of it.”
The clutch hit gave Ashland, which was playing its season opener, its first lead of the game after North Medford went ahead 1-0 in the fourth and 2-1 in the fifth.
O’Donnell, who was 2-for-3, hit an RBI single to score Nick Sanderson from third and tie the game 1-1 in the fourth, then singled and wound up scoring on a balk to tie the game again, 2-2, in the sixth.
Ashland leadoff hitter Kellar Edwards, Sanderson and Carroll each had two hits and a double for the Grizzlies, who survived three fielding errors.
Fuller, Sanderson and Carroll each saw time on the mound for Ashland, with Fuller getting the start and holding the Tornado scoreless on one hit in 2 2/3 innings. Sanderson struck out five in 2 2/3 innings but also surrendered two runs, while Carroll struck out four and gave up one run over the last three innings to pick up the win.
“Today’s focus was to get our main (pitches) some live game work,” Hall said. “We have our first conference game next Tuesday so I didn’t want to burn anybody out. I wanted to keep them all below 50 pitches today.”
Collins went 2-for-4 to lead North Medford’s offense, while Tornado starting pitcher Ryan Sandoval held Ashland to two runs on six hits in six innings of work, striking out nine. Buchanan took the loss.
Ashland will travel to Eugene to face Marist on Tuesday in the Midwestern League opener for both teams. Hall said playing a hard-fought game against a quality 6A opponent should help prepare the Grizzlies for the pressures of league play.
“I think we’ve worked really hard these first two and a half weeks trying to make sure we have all our fundamentals covered and all our plays down,” he said. “Bu really, when you get in a game situation you just kind of have to get those reps. So today was really valuable to get on the field and face a real opponent rather than ourselves.
Ashland advanced to the Class 5A state quarterfinals last season, narrowly missing out on the final four after a hard-fought loss at Hood River.
“I think the experience that a lot of these guys have from last year really is going to be valuable right now going into our conference season. There’s a lot of experience that guys can rely on, knowing the system, knowing their role on the team.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.