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...
ASHLAND — Ashland's Collin Malcolm wasn't able to play against Phoenix in the first head-to-head matchup two weeks ago — a Pirates win.
The junior forward was everywhere Friday for the second meeting.
Malcolm had 23 points and 13 rebounds and the Grizzlies hit all six of their fourth-quarter free throws to avenge that Dec. 28 setback with a 46-37 victory Friday in nonleague action at Mountain Avenue Gym.
Malcolm, who missed the previous head-to-head matchup with an ankle sprain, scored 11 points in the first half and eight points in the fourth quarter, including four at the charity stripe as Ashland (4-7) held off a furious comeback attempt by the Pirates to snap a six-game losing streak and pick up its first home win.
Junior forward Jason Wyncoop had 11 points and eight rebounds and Ty Mahaffey 10 points and five boards to pace the Pirates (4-8), but Phoenix couldn't get over the hump after cutting what was a 13-point lead down to one midway through the fourth quarter.
"We got beat by North Valley here (Tuesday) and it was a wake-up call," Ashland head coach Jeff Schlecht said. "We had our best two practices Wednesday and Thursday, so that's what you saw out here. You saw determination from a team that we are going to play tougher defense, we're going to get inside position on rebounding, move the ball and try to eliminate turnovers. That was the best, most complete game by the team."
The Pirates had two golden opportunities to either tie or take the lead in the final 3 minutes, 15 seconds, but both attempts — an in-and-out 3 by Tyson Morris and a hook by the 6-foot-5 Wyncoop — missed and Malcolm bolted free for a press-breaking lay-in with 1:40 to go, giving the Grizzlies a four-point cushion.
"That lay-in by (Malcolm) on the inbounds play, that kind of broke our back right there and we could never could get back in it," Phoenix head coach Jeff Rhoades said.
The Pirates were forced to foul four times in 15 seconds to put the Grizzlies at the free-throw line, but Ashland sophomore guard Ethan Jones sank the front end of a crucial one-and-one and the second attempt as well, and Ashland pulled away from there.
The Grizzlies rode Malcolm, and some sharp outside shooting, to a 24-14 halftime lead. Sophomore guard Walker Shibley-Styer drained a pair of 3-pointers, Jones hit another and Malcolm continued to pound the boards.
"My whole game plan tonight was to get good shots inside, take less outside shots," said Malcolm, whose turnaround baseline jumper was falling all night.
Phoenix, meanwhile, struggled to find a rhythm against Ashland's zone defense, which limited the Pirates to four field goals in the first two quarters.
Everything changed after the break, however, as Phoenix relaxed on offense and welcomed back Morris, the senior starting point guard and playmaker who sat out the first half for disciplinary reasons.
Morris scored only two points for the Pirates — he was fouled on a 3-point attempt at the third-quarter buzzer and hit 2 of 3 free throws — but his presence sparked the Pirates' offense, which outscored Ashland 12-6 in the period to cut the deficit to four, 30-26, heading into the fourth.
Phoenix inched within 36-35 on a Wyncoop hook with 4:21 to go but couldn't even the score despite creating several opportunities — the Pirates' full-court press rattled the Grizzlies throughout the fourth quarter, leading to five Ashland turnovers in one particularly frantic two-minute stretch.
But Ashland survived to pick up its first victory since Dec. 14, when the Grizzlies improved to 3-1. It's been a struggle since, but Schlecht likes the direction his team is headed.
"Honestly, it was just hard work on their part," he said, "and they've decided they want to work hard. And I, of course, want to work them hard."
PHOENIX (37) — Mahaffey 10, Raffensperger 1, Sauceda 0, Hay 3, Wyncoop 11, Champion-Blazio 10, Morris 2, Deras 0. Totals: 10 13-20 37.
ASHLAND (46) — Layton 0, Harfst 4, Byers 4, Shibley-Styer 8, Stanley 0, Malcolm 23, Jones 7. Totals: 18 6-6 46.
Phoenix 7 7 12 11 — 37
Ashland 9 15 6 16 — 46
3-point goals — Phoenix 4 (Champion-Blazio 2, Hay 1, Mahaffey 1), Ashland 4 (Shibley-Styer 2, Malcolm 1, Jones 1).