ASHLAND — Through its first eight games of the 2018 season, the young Ashland High baseball team has had its fair share of learning moments at the plate.
The big hit has eluded the Grizzlies in some of their closest games this year — and that was the case once again on Tuesday.
Despite a complete-game, three-hit effort from sophomore starting pitcher Eli Westrick, North Eugene became the latest team to prevent Ashland from picking up its first win of the season, as the Highlanders edged the Grizzlies 1-0 at North Mountain Park.
“I was pleased with the effort today and everyone was fired up, ready to play and ready to get that (first win), but we just couldn’t put together anything offensively,” Ashland head coach Nick Hall said. “When you can’t hit, any defensive miscues you have, they just get magnified. That’s what ended up happening to us today.”
Indeed, Ashland’s one error proved to be the difference on the scoreboard in a meeting of two teams looking for their first Midwestern League win of the season.
North Eugene (2-10 overall, 1-6 MWL) scored the only run of the game in the top of the second, as shortstop Nate Duke — who singled to open the inning — came in from second on a two-out Ashland error.
Ashland (0-9, 0-7) had quality chances to tie the game in the fifth and seventh innings, but were unable to push a run across.
In the decisive seventh, the potential game-tying was just 90 feet away in the form of left fielder Luke Brown — who crushed a two-out double to left — in the bottom of the seventh, but North Eugene starter Cam Parks recorded his sixth and final strikeout of the day to wrap up his own complete-game effort.
Like Westrick, Parks allowed just three hits in the game.
“I thought (Parks) did a really good job of throwing strikes and he forced us to swing the bat,” Hall said. “We put some good swings on the ball, but it was not really enough and nothing really fell. I’d attribute it to their guy throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters and kind of putting us in a hole offensively.”
After North Eugene scored the only run of the game, Westrick was solid as can be.
Westrick shook off early control problems — he issued all three of his walks in the game within the first two innings — and settled into a rhythm that saw him work quick and efficiently.
The sophomore right-hander recorded 1-2-3 innings in four of his final five innings of work, allowing just two hits over that span, with one of those baserunners getting caught in a rundown as he tried to stretch a single into a double to end the top of the sixth.
Westrick finished with three strikeouts in the game.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent,” Westrick said when asked if finding his control was the biggest thing for him in the game. “When you’re pitching, it’s all about finding that rhythm. When you’re having to pitch from the stretch early on in the inning, that’s hurting me. It felt good to get back into a rhythm.”
And that was even after he got hit flush on the right forearm on a comebacker in the top of the fourth inning.
“He’s someone who tends to settle in,” Hall said. “He does a great job of competing out there. He takes a ball right off the forearm and he’s like, ‘I’m right back at it.’ That was awesome to see. He pitched seven strong innings with no earned runs — that’s pretty much all we can ask.”
Ashland and North Eugene face one another again on Saturday in a doubleheader that is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. in Eugene.
“We’re pretty antsy (about getting the first win of the season). We want to go up to Eugene and take two from them on Saturday, so hopefully we can make that happen,” Westrick said. “We just have to find a way to get on base. You have to take a walk, you have to be able to get pegged and if you have to swing the bat you have to swing it hard enough to put it in play.”
North Eugene 010 000 0 — 1 3 2
Ashland 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Parks and Dalton; Westrick and Evans. W — Parks. L — Westrick. 2B — A: Brown, Reynolds.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.