Ashland’s Tysin Senestraro called for a strike during the fourth inning at the semifinals of the OSAA State boy’s baseball tournament in Ashland. - Photo by Orville Hector

Churchill puts an end to Ashland's playoff run

ASHLAND — Coming into Tuesday's state semifinal game against Churchill, Ashland baseball coach Don Senestraro had hoped that the Grizzlies' spacious field at North Mountain Park would minimize the visitor's advantage in the power-hitting department.

Turns out, it only provided a bigger target for Churchill. And the Lancers used about every inch of it.

Churchill scored five quick runs in the first inning and blasted 19 hits overall to cruise past Ashland 10-6 in the semifinals of the OSAA Class 5A state baseball playoffs at North Mountain Park.

Anthony Kreitz went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple and three RBIs, and Justin Hoffman went 4-for-5 with two RBIs as the No. 6-ranked Lancers (21-7) earned the right to play No. 3-ranked Crater in Saturday's state championship game at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.

"I'm still soaking it in," Churchill coach Erik Hoberg said, smiling from ear to ear after a round of congratulatory hugs. "We've been waiting a long time for this. For this group of kids who have worked so hard for the past four years, these seniors, it's just an incredible feeling and I'm so proud of them and so happy for what they've accomplished up to this point."

Fresh off the first quarterfinal win in team history, the Lancers again played like a club used to the pressure — especially at the plate. They had seven hits in the first inning, including a two-run double by starting pitcher Andrew Schumacher. More impressive, they did it against Ashland ace Gus Gaviglio, who entered the game with a sub-1.40 ERA.

Ashland stormed back with a four-run, two-out rally in the third that cut the lead to 6-5. The surge included the Grizzlies' first two home runs of the season — first a solo shot by Justin Meza, then a three-run dinger by Owen Baldrica. Churchill held on though, blanking Ashland over the next three innings while tacking on three insurance runs in the sixth and another in the seventh to win going away.

Meza went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, and Gaviglio went 3-for-4 with one RBI to lead Ashland (18-11), which lost for the first time since being swept by Crater on May 1.

"I really thought we were going to go all the way," Senestraro said. "We were on such a roll, we came back, it was 6-5. I thought, 'We've got these guys.'

"We weren't here thinking that we were the Cinderella kids. We thought we deserved to be here. They're very disappointed."

Schumacher picked up the win despite giving up seven hits and five earned runs in three innings. His replacement, Darrell Hunter, slowed down Ashland over the last four innings, holding the Grizzlies to one run on four hits.

Churchill's powerful lineup continued its tear through the state playoffs. In the bombastic three-game run, the Lancers have scored a combined 29 runs against top-ranked Sherwood, No. 2-ranked Summit and the unranked Grizzlies. Churchill was 19-for-37 with five extra-base hits against Ashland, a team that surrendered just eight runs in its previous eight games.

After giving up 17 of those hits in six innings, Gaviglio could only tip his hat to the Lancers.

"Sometimes you just play a better team," he said. "That first inning, I don't know what was going on because I was keeping my curveball low, hitting my spots."

Against the Lancers, it didn't matter.

Darrell Hunter started the first-inning onslaught with a single. After Peter Straka's sacrifice bunt, Churchill pounded out four straight hits, capped by Drew Irsfled's RBI double off the wall in left center.

Ashland plated one in the bottom of the inning, but the Lancers got it back in the second on Hoffman's RBI single to left.

One strike away from going down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the third, Ashland made a game of it. First, Meza turned on Schumacher's 0-2 delivery and drove it over the wall in left. Then, after consecutive singles by Gaviglio and Hayden Miller, Baldrica crushed the second bomb of the inning.

Ashland couldn't ride the momentum shift all the way back, however, stranding the tying run on base in both the fourth and the fifth before Churchill expanded its lead in the sixth. That's when Hunter and Kreitz both doubled, Hoffman and Matt Myrmo singled and the Lancers suddenly were up four again at 9-5.

Kreitz's RBI triple made it 10-5 in the sixth, but it turned out Churchill didn't need any more insurance despite a short-lived scare in the bottom of the seventh. Ashland led off with consecutive hits and was one more away from bringing the tying run to the plate before Hunter retired the next three batters on two pop-ups and a strikeout.

The Lancers celebrated briefly after the final out before turning their attention to Crater, a team that also scored in bunches against the Grizzlies this season. The Comets, who also play in the Southern Sky Conference, swept the season series against Ashland, winning the four games by a combined score of 34-14.

"Obviously, it's satisfying to win this game and to make it to the state championship game," Hoberg said, "but for us, we've had one goal all year. It was just, let's get ourselves prepared and play good baseball at the end. It always comes down to who's playing good baseball at the end."

Churchill 510 003 1 — 10 19 2

Ashland 104 000 1 — 6 11 2

Schumacher, Hunter (4) and Hoffman; Gaviglio, Killeen (7) and L. Sebrell. W — Schumacher. L — Gaviglio. 2B — C: Irsfeld, Hunter, Kreitz; A: Tygerson, Gordon. 3B — C: Schumacher, Kreitz. HR — A: Meza, Baldrica.

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