Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Down 11-8 in the fifth game against a Crescent Valley team that had momentum, not to mention a nearly unstoppable hitter in Malie Rube, on its side, the Ashland High volleyball team was in desperate need of an emotional lift.
That's when junior middle hitter Madeline Wallace delivered the spike of the night, a straight-down blast that hit a Crescent Valley Raider then the floor with a resounding thud, to bring the pro-Ashland crowd at Mountain Avenue Gym to its feet.
"I've never had a hit like that," Wallace said.
The spectacular smash revved up the Grizzlies and kickstarted their 6-1 match-turning rally, and senior Shelby Minor delivered the game-winning kill moments later to secure for Ashland a 25-17, 19-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-13 victory Tuesday in a Class 5A play-in match.
The dramatic win earned the Grizzlies (13-9) a round of 16 match at West Albany (24-1), the Mid-Willamette Conference champion, on Saturday. West Albany's only loss of the season came Oct. 13 against Jesuit.
Minor, an outside hitter, had 14 kills and 13 digs, Wallace added 12 kills and four blocks and sophomore setter Jordan Tilley had 37 assists, 11 digs and five aces for the Grizzlies, who are one win away from advancing to the eight-team state tournament, Nov. 9-10 at Liberty High School.
"This was a great match for us," Ashland head coach Robin Akpan said. "That team gave us a great battle and I think that it'll give us a lot of momentum and excitement going into Saturday's match."
The Raiders (8-13), who raced out to leads of 6-3 and 9-4 in the fifth game before floundering, were paced by Rube's match-high 15 kills, while Paige Kelsey added 11 kills and 22 assists and Corey Sanders nine kills and seven digs. Setter Rachel Tostberg had 28 assists.
Crescent Valley seemed to have the match under control after the hard-hitting Rube unleashed a powerful spike through Wallace's attempted block, giving the visitors an 11-8 lead. Moments later Wallace got it right back when she rose high to meet Tilley's set, drawing a roar from the crowd and a hand-slapping celebration by the fired-up Grizzlies.
"That was a big momentum jump for us," Akpan said. "Up until that point we were definitely just hanging in there, and then (Wallace) got us some huge momentum, and I think at that point our energy just boosted and we weren't going to get stopped."
A lifting violation on the Raiders on the next point cut their lead to 11-10, and back-to-back aces by Tilley gave the Grizzlies their first lead of the fifth game. Tilley's service error tied the match, but a hitting miscue on Crescent Valley followed by a kill by Minor gave the Grizzlies, up 14-12, two match points. They couldn't convert the first when Sanders spiked the ball into the open court, but on the next point Minor powered a spike through a Raider block attempt to clinch the win for Ashland and set off a huge midcourt celebration.
"It felt awesome," Minor said. "I give it all to my team. We did really well tonight and I think it was all of us that put it together.
"Coming off a win like that, I think we're good to go in our next round and I hope that we come out stronger than we did tonight also."
"It's so exciting to be peaking at the end," Akpan said. "That's what every coach hopes for, is to peak at the end. It's really exciting and I think for all the seniors tonight, they all played amazing and this was their last match at home and congratulations for them on a great night."