That's only half of the story, though. Ashland High School, where the bulk of the Pilots' players play during the school year, has advanced to the final four of Oregon's high school playoffs in each of the last four years. Included in that run was a …
Powell's first-round foe experiencedThe Powell Pioneers will have their work cut out for them in the opening round of the 2010 Northwest Region Class A tournament in Bozeman, Mont., this Friday. Powell's opponent, the Ashland (Ore.) Pilots, have made the trip in three of the last four years.
That's only half of the story, though. Ashland High School, where the bulk of the Pilots' players play during the school year, has advanced to the final four of Oregon's high school playoffs in each of the last four years. Included in that run was a 2008 state title and an appearance in this year's state championship game.
The Pilots, who bring a 31-12 mark to Bozeman, relied heavily upon that experience to earn a spot in this year's regional tournament. After losing a 2-1 contest in the opening round of tournament play, Ashland was required to navigate the entire elimination bracket with five straight victories to extend their season.
Pitcher Max Anderson threw a pair of complete games, including the championship game, allowing just one earned run during that rally by Ashland. Unlike Wyoming, Oregon state tournament games are just seven innings in length.
Anderson's performance in the title game was particularly impressive as the hurler required just 61 pitches to get through the contest.
“He wasn't overpowering. He only had four strikeouts,” noted Joe Zavala, sports editor for the Ashland, Ore., paper that covers the Pilots. “It was just ground ball after ground ball.”
Also assisting Ashland's run to the state title was a solid defensive performance that included a rarely-seen triple play in the championship game. In their five must-win games on the elimination bracket, the Pilots committed just one total error.
Offensively, the Pilots are all about manufacturing runs. Nobody on the team has hit more than five home runs this season heading to Bozeman, although team average leader Brent Hegdahl, who hit his first career home run just last month, has caught fire recently and now shares team-high honors with Billy Hansen at five apiece.
Ethan Schlecht, a part-time pitcher for the Pilots, earned state tournament MVP honors for Ashland after finishing the state tournament with a .550 batting average and 11 RBIs in six games. Schlecht also displayed a flair for timing. His two-run homer won the Pilots' semifinal game. His bases-clearing double in the championship helped spur Ashland to a 7-1 victory.
The Pioneers got a taste of Oregon-flavored small-ball last season in an elimination game victory over Roseburg that saw everything from double steals and squeeze bunts to the ever-popular attempted steal of home plate.
“Hopefully we can go out and put some runs on the board early and make them come chase us,” said Pioneers head coach Mike Jameson, whose team heads to Bozeman averaging 10 runs per contest.
As has been the case much of the year, Powell will look to rely upon a lineup that currently swings the bats at a .416 clip. Grant Geiser, who, along with teammate Dallas Robirds, has signed a letter of intent to play ball for Williston State College next season, leads the team with 103 hits this season. Despite a mild post-season slump, Geiser maintains a .520 average.
Teammate Scotty Jameson adds a .528 average in the heart of the order after enjoying an 8-for-10 performance with four doubles in Powell's title-clinching Friday doubleheader against Sheridan and then Laramie.
Ten of the 16 players on the Pioneers' roster have regional tournament experience from last season.
“I like the way the bracket sets up for us,” notes Mike Jameson. “The key, of course, is getting past that first one.”