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Playoff spots up for grabs tonight for SOC teams

Win or lose tonight, Ashland High's girls basketball team faces a playoff game later this week -- probably on Thursday.

The question is whether the playoff will be a do-or-die thing.

Heading into tonight, three teams are tied for third place at 9-6 in the Southern Oregon Conference -- Ashland, Eagle Point and Klamath Union. Problem is, only two will make the playoffs.

The Grizzlies can lock up a spot by beating Grants Pass (4-11) in Ashland. The winner of tonight's Eagle Point-Klamath Union match in Eagle Point will earn a playoff berth.

If Ashland loses tonight, the Grizzlies will play the loser of the Eagle Point-KU game for the SOC's fourth and final spot in the state tournament. If the Grizzlies win, they will face the winner of the Eagle Point-KU game in a playoff to determine who gets the third and fourth seeds for the state tournament.

We want third place because that's a better road in the state playoffs, says Ashland coach Heather Roberts. We need to win this game and then win a playoff game to get third.

Ashland has won three straight games and five of its last six.

Only the SOC champion gets an automatic berth in the 16-team state tournament March 3-7 at The Chiles Center in Portland. Crater (14-1) can lock up the title and that berth by beating last-place Mazama (1-14) tonight in Klamath Falls.

The other three teams must survive at least a round of state playoffs to make the tournament. Second-place North Medford (13-2) has to win one state playoff game before the tournament, the third-place team two games and the fourth-place team three games.

The way it works out, the fourth-place SOC team will have to win at either Lakeridge or defending state champion Oregon City in the third round -- a step away from the tournament.

In tonight's other girls game, Roseburg plays at North Medford.

In SOC boys play tonight, North Medford will play its first of two pivotal games this week that could vault the Black Tornado into second place in the final standings. North travels to take on Roseburg tonight in a meeting of teams with 9-5 SOC records. Klamath Union is a half game in front of the Tornado and Indians at 9-4.

North Medford can assure itself of no worse than a tie for second place in the SOC if it beats Roseburg tonight and defeats Klamath Union on Friday night at North Medford.

Early in the season, we hoped we might be in position to control our destiny as far as the (state) playoffs are concerned, said North Medford coach Terry Gregg. The kids have played with some toughness and have done that for the most part. Based on that, I'm looking forward to the rest of the season.

These are two big games for us this week, and we have a real good chance to get second place with two games left.

The No. 2 team from the Southern Oregon Conference gets two byes in the state playoffs, and would have to win just one state playoff game to advance to the tournament.

North Medford suffered a major blow last week when it lost to Grants Pass, despite Jeff Zimmer's 21-point effort on 5-of-6 3-point attempts.

It's a tough loss, but I was pleased with how our kids responded in the fourth quarter, said Gregg. Grants Pass spent most of the fourth quarter at the free-throw line, and we needed someone to step up and score to respond. Zimmer has been playing while ill for the last three weeks, and it was nice to have him step up for us again when we needed him.

Gregg says North Medford must try to contain 6-foot-8 Roseburg center Matt Brown and wing Drew Libby tonight.

Brown can do more than dominate inside, says Gregg. He can also step out and shoot the ball real well. While you are concentrating on Brown inside, you can't let Libby get open shots outside, or he will hurt you.

In other SOC boys games tonight, Ashland plays at Grants Pass, Eagle Point is at Klamath Union, and Mazama plays at Crater. The South Medford boys already have clinched their third straight SOC title with their 14-0 record. The Panthers have a bye tonight before finishing the season against Mazama and Crater.