The ability to move on and embrace the next obstacle is a big part of being an athlete, and that’s exactly what’s in store for the...
EAGLE POINT — Ashland dared Eagle Point to shoot and for three quarters the Eagles looked like they had forgotten how.
To Cesar Chavez, there was only one way to respond to the inexplicable cold spell.
"They were leaving us open and we just had to keep shooting," he said. "They had to start falling some day."
And late, late Friday, they did.
Chavez swished three long 3-pointers and scored 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as the Eagles shook off an icy first half to beat Ashland 50-36 and clinch a Southern Oregon Hybrid 5A boys basketball series sweep of the Grizzlies at Eagle Point High School.
The win sends Eagle Point (20-3) into the playoffs on a roll, having won five straight and nine of its last 10. According to head coach Bryan Wood, the Eagles also celebrated their first-ever 20-win season. And if they finish in the top eight in the final 5A rankings — a virtual certainty since they were still ranked third Friday night — they'll host a round of 16 playoff game March 8 with a trip to the eight-team state tournament at University of Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena on the line.
"I'm just proud of our seniors," Wood said. "This is my third year here and I've had those seniors for those three years and I couldn't think of a better group. I'm just grateful that this group of kids got a reward for all the hard work that they've been putting in."
"We made history at Eagle Point," Chavez added, "and we're going to make more history at state."
It didn't come easy Friday, especially in the second quarter, when undersized Ashland (9-13) used some feisty defense and solid free throw shooting to outscore Eagle Point 11-4 and knot the game at 19-all heading into the break. Jeremiah Hasskamp and Collin Malcolm combined to hit 7 of 8 free throws in the quarter to help tilt the momentum in Ashland's favor.
The Grizzlies kept the pressure on in the third, grabbing their first lead of the game in the opening minute when Gabe Stanley converted a three-point play to make it 22-21. Stanley finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, and Malcolm seven points and 10 rebounds to pace the Grizzlies.
The game was tied 24-all when the Eagles finally wiggled free. A 3-pointer by David Barber midway through the third seemed to ignite the Eagles, and Jorge Quintero rattled in another late to give the Eagles a 36-29 lead heading into the fourth.
Chavez took over from there, sinking his first bomb on EP's opening possession and his second a minute later to make it 42-31. His third, with 5:20 to go, gave Eagle Point a 45-33 lead and capped a 21-9 run.
"Honestly, that kind of broke our back," Ashland coach Jeff Schlecht said. "That combination of outrebounding us in the second half, especially, and (Chavez). That was kind of our goal — to keep them out of the paint and see if they could knock those shots down, and he knocked those shots down."
Eagle Point ruled the paint, too, with Austin Holmes (seven points) and Kramer Edwards (20 points) bullying the Grizzlies inside. Unable to handle Eagle Point's bulk, the Grizzlies racked up fouls in a hurry — they picked up their eighth team foul with 5:50 to go in the first half.
But the Eagles failed to take advantage, hitting only 2 of 9 free throws in the first half.
Wood said that was bound to change.
"At halftime we had not shot free throws well and they had shot extremely well," he said. "We had not hit any outside shots. So we knew we weren't going to keep missing. Eventually we're going to make some and that hopefully would be enough to get them out of the zone, and we feel comfortable when they're not in the zone."
The loss is not likely to keep Ashland out of postseason play. If the Grizzlies remain in the top 24 —they were ranked 21st Friday night — they'll hit the road for a play-in game.
To Schlecht, that in itself is a success for the Grizzlies, who finished 1-20 last season.
"These kids have worked so hard," he said, "and they really wanted this one, but for them to win nine games this season already and make the playoffs is in my mind a testimony to their hard work and bringing it every day in practice."
ASHLAND (36) — Hasskamp 6, Jones 2, Layton 0, Harfst 3, Shibley-Styer 0, Byers 7, Malcolm 7, Stanley 11. Totals: 11 13-17 36.
EAGLE POINT (50) — Jones 0, Quintero 8, Morris 0, Barber 3, Holte 0, Chavez 19, Edwards 13, Baker 0, Dole 0, Holmes 7. Totals: 19 6-17 50.
Ashland 8 11 10 7 — 36
Eagle Point 15 4 17 14 — 50
3-point goals — Ashland 1 (Byers 1), Eagle Point 6 (Quintero 2, Barber 1, Chavez 3). Fouled out — Harfst.