North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
EAGLE POINT — Eagle Point may have been on a five-game losing streak only two weeks ago, but the Eagles will still have some momentum heading into the state playoffs.
Beating your only league rival can have that effect.
Senior post Casie Johnson had 23 points and eight rebounds, sophomore guard Sydney May had 21 points and five boards and the Eagles raced out to a 39-15 halftime lead en route to a 69-44 victory over Ashland in the third and deciding game between the Southern Oregon Hybrid 5A teams Tuesday at Eagle Point High School.
The victory clinches the SOH championship for Eagle Point (16-8). The Eagles, who beat Ashland 59-44 Feb. 8 in Ashland to even the series, will host a state play-in game against an opponent to be determined. That game will be played on or before Feb. 27.
Ashland (7-15), which has lost four in a row and nine of its last 10, will have to travel for its play-in game.
"It's been building all season," Eagle Point head coach Paul Bell said. "You kind of want to peak at the end. They just keep practicing, and we know that we work hard. We know every game we come out and we play hard and we're going to work hard and good things are going to happen. Tonight, things were just happening."
The Eagles let a fourth-quarter lead slip away in their first meeting with Ashland, but this time Johnson was in the lineup — she was nursing an injury and missed the Jan. 29 game — and Eagle Point abolished any hope of a similar Ashland comeback by outscoring the Grizzlies 26-11 in the second quarter.
Johnson was a big part of that, scoring eight points in the second and 15 in the half. May added 10 first-half points, and freshmen Bailey Cooper and Adriene Wood added five each to help the Eagles take a 24-point lead into the halftime break.
The Grizzlies finally found their footing in the third quarter. Hannah Teixeira scored six points and the Grizzlies matched the Eagles on the scoreboard. But it was way too little, way too late.
Sophomore guard Georgia Williams scored 15 points, including eight of Ashland's 11 in the second, to pace the Grizzlies, while Teixeira added eight.
Eagle Point dominated Ashland from the opening tip, scoring 11 of the first 15 points before Johnson's 10-foot jumper swished to give the Eagles a 13-4 lead after one quarter.
The Eagles pulled away in a hurry in the second, scoring three buckets — two off steals — in the opening minute to make it 19-4. Later, in a sequence that summed up the night for both teams, Cooper banked in a straight-on 3, Kinsey Bradshaw corralled an Ashland block and turned it into an easy layup and Johnson hit a pull-up jumper followed by a reverse layin to increase Eagle Point's cushion to 24 points, 32-8.
The first half ended the way it began, too. Wood drilled a 3 with nine seconds to go and Williams, one of Ashland's few bright spots, clanked a free throw with 3.6 seconds to go.
After sitting out the first game of the series and playing in a limited capacity in the second game, Johnson proved her worth in this one, punishing the Grizzlies' interior defense again and again.
"The last game (against Ashland) my leg was hurt so all I could do was play defense," Johnson said. "Now, this game I was really pumped to play."
And she showed it, matching Ashland's point total in the first half all by herself.
"When we didn't have (Johnson), they had the matchup advantage on us," Bell said. "We had a hard time overcoming that. When we have her back and they have to account for her, then we get the advantage. We had the matchups we wanted and we exploited them all night long."
The game was the final regular season home game for three Eagle Point seniors: Johnson, Courtenay Hoefft and Vanessa Pena.
Ashland played without freshman guard Kasydie Winner, who was a major contributor for the Grizzlies before suffering a knee injury late in the Feb. 8 game against Eagle Point. Not that Winner could have saved Ashland on Tuesday. The Grizzlies managed just two field goals in the first quarter and four in the first half, as Eagle Point's stifling defense contested nearly every shot.
"We just didn't come out hard in the beginning, and that's what really killed us," Ashland coach Emily Hesse said. "Being down by over 20 by halftime really kills you. We have to come out and play all four quarters and we didn't. We played maybe two quarters and that's what really killed us today."
EAGLE POINT (69) — Johnson 23, May 21, Bradshaw 12, Wood 6, Cooper 5, Pena 2, Nielsen 0, Summers 0, Hoefft 0. Totals: 30 4-7 69.
ASHLAND (44) — Williams 15, Teixeira 8, Kasiah 6, Read 4, Kuykendall 4, Thornton 3, Dunn 2, Brookins 2. Totals: 15 13-25 44.
Eagle Point 13 26 15 15 — 69
Ashland 4 15 15 14 — 44
3-point goals — Eagle Point 5 (May 3, Wood 1, Cooper 1), Ashland 1 (Williams 1). Fouled out — May.
JV result — Eagle Point won.