When he was putting together his initial football staff at North Medford High, Mike Mitchell put a particularly different spin on his...
ASHLAND — Ashland High team captain Nick Chouard had one request for senior day: that his last boys soccer regular-season game be played under the lights at North Mountain Park.
Chouard got his wish Tuesday, then made the most of the opportunity by scoring the game's only goal, lifting Ashland to a 1-0 Southern Oregon Hybrid 5A win over Eagle Point and clinching for the Grizzlies a season sweep of the Eagles.
Chouard, a senior halfback, scored the only goal Ashland would need in the 16th minute and Ashland limited Eagle Point to five shots on goal to clinch the SOH title for the Grizzlies, who have won three of their last four games heading into the 5A play-in round.
Ashland (7-5-1), which beat Eagle Point 2-1 on Oct. 17, will find out its postseason fate later this week. The 5A rankings freeze at 10 p.m. today and play-in pairings will be listed at osaa.org soon thereafter. The play-in games, for teams ranked No. 9 through No. 24 in the final rankings, are slated to be played no later than Saturday. Ashland was ranked No. 16 on Tuesday night, while Eagle Point (6-5-1) fell to 23rd.
Chouard got plenty of help on the first-half strike, but only his perfect timing made the goal possible. Junior forward Lucas Golding got the play started, sending a pass from the wing to a streaking Geronimo Garcia-Ayala, who was near the corner of the box. Garcia-Ayala then dished a cross to Chouard, who bended a one-touch rocket across his body into the upper-left corner of the goal. The ball looked like it would sail over the crossbar when it came off Chouard's right foot, but he put just enough top spin on the ball to pull it back under the crossbar but over the outstretched hands of Eagle Point goalkeeper Jonel Quintero.
"I just put it in my mind that I was going to score and when I stepped up to the ball I just knew that I was going to put it in," said Chouard, who now has eight goals to go with eight assists. "Eagle Point came out with a great team this year, but in the first half our attack was great and our defense was able to hold a really solid line. And then in the second half we just played great defense throughout. We just sort of held down at our side and gave the counterattacks we could."
"That was an amazing shot," said Ashland coach Abdiaziz Guled.
The Eagles weren't able to tally an equalizer, but they came close a few times. The most painful near-miss occurred with about eight minutes to go in the game, when Tyler Wannamaker, a sophomore forward, delivered a nice cross to a wide-open Brock Wilson, who whiffed the open shot from about 10 yards away.
"Just unlucky," Eagle Point third-year coach Phil Ortega said. "It's part of the game. But this is a good place to show a little bit of the skill that we've developed the last couple years. I remember the days when Eagle Point was beaten 8-0, 5-0 in the first half. I'm happy where we are now. I wish we would have had a win but it is what it is."
The Grizzlies outshot the Eagles 11-8 overall, including 6-5 on-goal. Garcia-Ayala, a senior forward, Chouard, Golding, senior fullback Gabe Young, senior forward Andres Garcia and sophomore forward Stenley Graham kept he pressure on Eagle Point throughout the game, particularly in the first half. Golding barely missed putting away a cross from Graham midway through the first half and hit a header too high in the fourth minute, and Young was wide left on another open header in the final minute.
Still, the Grizzlies were good enough on defense to keep EP runs to a minimum and now head into the postseason riding a wave of confidence.
"Overall, I think this is probably the best game we've played offensively and defensively all season," Chouard said. "I think we have a really good chance of winning our first (play-in) game, and after that it just matters how far we want to go. How much desire we have is going to determine our fate and how far we go.
"Every single game we've learned something and we've improved. And it's all just building up and building up so I'm really looking forward to the playoffs."
For Eagle Point, Ortega says the future is bright. He credited youngsters Sebastian Tovar, Kevin Vandyke and Ronaldo Rincones with leading the charge for the Eagles, who will probably hit the road for their play-in game.
"Our midfield was strong," he said, "and they're all sophomores, so I'm really looking forward to the next couple years."