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Ashland’s Ian Kendall pitches against Crescent Valley during Tuesday’s playoff game in Ashland. - Larry Stauth Jr.

Grizz blanks Raiders

ASHLAND — Shrugging off his team's gaudy offensive statistics, Ashland High head baseball coach Don Senestraro insisted prior to Monday's practice that defense and pitching was the key to the Grizzlies' playoff aspirations.

Right on cue, Ashland delivered just enough of one and plenty of the other Tuesday, riding the arm and bat of Ian Kendall and a stellar defensive performance across the board to a 4-0 second-round playoff win over Crescent Valley before 250 fans at North Mountain Park.

"You've got to hand it to them, that's a good baseball team over there," Crescent Valley coach Jim Owre said. "We have super kids and we have good baseball players, so if we're going to lose we might as well lose to a team like that."

Making his first-ever postseason start on the hill, Kendall helped his cause by cranking a three-run home run in the first inning and shutting down the Raiders through the first 51/3 innings as Ashland (22-4) snared its fifth straight Class 5A playoff win.

The victory earns the Grizzlies a quarterfinal rematch with North Eugene, which beat Cleveland 3-0 on the road in another second-round game Tuesday.

The No. 2-ranked Grizzlies and No. 7 Highlanders (17-11) square off Friday at North Eugene's Swede Johnson Stadium, site of last year's epic Elite Eight duel. The Grizzlies won that game with a last-gasp home run, and Kendall believes the Highlanders are just fine with the tough draw.

"I think (the Highlanders) are going to want us," said Kendall, who improved to 6-0 on the mound while blasting his team-high sixth homer. "They're going to want our butts pretty badly. They're looking for revenge and we're going to give them a good fight."

A good fight is exactly what the Raiders (15-13) gave the Grizzlies Tuesday, although Ashland whiffed on multiple opportunities at an early-round knockout. Ashland out-hit Crescent Valley 11-4, did not commit an error and turned a perfectly-executed pick-off play into a key out. But the Grizzlies also had a hard time shaking the Raiders despite generating plenty of chances to do so.

Ashland left 10 runners on base and were held scoreless in the third and fourth innings despite loading the bases in both frames. Crescent Valley senior Dusty Hultberg pitched the first two innings and was tagged with the loss. Three Raider relievers — Scott Stone, Brayden Dunning and Logan Cooper — combined to hold Ashland to one run on five hits the rest of the way.

"It seems like we had runners on base all the time, we just couldn't get that big (hit)," Senestraro said. "I was OK with our hitting — our clutch hitting wasn't good. I don't know how you work on that other than the kids being more selective at the plate."

Kendall selected right when he jumped all over Hultberg's first offering to give Ashland all the runs it would need with two outs in the first. Charlie Sebrell started the rally with a leadoff single and three batters later Garrett Tygerson doubled to put runners at second and third.

Kendall vaporized the next pitch to left-center.

"I was thinking curveball and he kind of looped it in and I just got the good part of the bat on it," Kendall said. "I always run it out, but that one felt pretty good. I kind of felt like it was (gone)."

"It set the tone for us," Senestraro added. "It got us excited and it got us ahead, which takes a little pressure off him to throw strikes and he can take it easy on the mound."

Kendall's right calf started to cramp up in the fourth inning, but he continued to pitch until Sebrell took over with one out in the sixth. Kendall wound up with six strikeouts and four walks. Sebrell gave up one hit the rest of the way to pick up his third save.

"When (Kendall) had to, he'd bear down and got the ball to where he needed to and he threw strikes when he needed to," Owre said.

The Raiders blew perhaps their best chance to cut into the lead in the top of the fourth, when Van Fudge was issued a leadoff walk and Grant Mattes followed with a single. Ashland quickly squashed the rally, though, fooling Fudge on a pickoff play before Kendall shut the door with consecutive strikeouts.

"When you go from first and second, no outs to man on second, one out, that's a big difference," Senestraro said.

Ashland tacked on another insurance run in the fifth when Brent Hegdahl (2-for-3) singled home Hayden Miller (2-for-2).

Now, Ashland turns its attention to a North Eugene team that came within an out of eliminating the Grizzlies last season.

"I'm sure they have an axe to grind with us," Senestraro said. "I hope we win because it's a long ride home."

Crescent Valley 000 000 0 — 0 4 0

Ashland 300 010 x — 4 11 1

Kendall, C. Sebrell (6) and L. Sebrell. Hultberg, Stone (3), Dunning (4), Cooper (5) and Larkin. W — Kendall (6-0). L — Hultberg. 2B — A: Tygerson (7). HR — Ashland: Kendall (6).

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