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Grizzlies hang on for rare win

With win over Crater, Ashland girls clinch right to stay at home in state-playoff opener

CENTRAL POINT ' In Marla Morin's mind, Tuesday night was a long time coming.

Morin, the Ashland girls basketball team's star senior post, had tasted only overwhelming defeat inside the Crater High gym, the Grizzlies losing by 22 and 20 points in her two previous varsity appearances there.

She was determined to create pleasant memories on her final visit.

That she did.

Morin's 22 points and 12 rebounds lifted Ashland to a gritty 61-57 victory over the Comets in a game bubbling over with playoff implications and atmosphere.

Her putback of Alysse Carlson's missed free throw with — minute, 27 seconds remaining gave the Grizzlies the lead for good.

Never in the history of the Ashland program have we ever won in the Crater gym, Morin said. So this was kind of a history-making thing. Even when coach (Heather) Roberts was here, we always lost to 'em at Crater because this is a tough place to play.

For the here-and-now, it was also monumental.

Coupled with North Medford's 53-44 loss to Roseburg, the win pushes Ashland into second place outright with one contest to go in the Southern Oregon Conference season. The Grizzlies (17-6, 10-3 SOC) host North Medford (9-4 SOC) on Thursday at 7 p.m. and need a victory to lock up the second seed, as a Black Tornado win would give North the No. 2 spot by virtue of a season sweep of Ashland.

knocking off Crater (13-10, 8-5 SOC), which blazed into Tuesday on a five-game winning streak, the Grizzlies ensured they'll finish with no worse than the third seed and get a home contest in the Class 4A state playoffs.

The Comets, meanwhile, must win at league-champion Roseburg (13-0 SOC) on Thursday to secure a postseason berth. A loss for Crater and victory for South Medford (7-6 SOC), which meets Grants Pass (2-11 SOC) at home, would necessitate a Saturday playoff for the fourth and final seed.

A Comets' upset at Roseburg and Ashland win over North, however, would create a tie for third place. In that case, Crater and the Tornado would play a tiebreaking contest.

But those are the messy what-ifs for a few days down the road.

What transpired Tuesday was a hard-fought tussle between two squads that certainly looked playoff-caliber and postseason-ready.

The Grizzlies used hot shooting to build a 9-2 by the 4:22 mark of the first quarter and extended their cushion to highs of 23-10 and 25-12 midway through the second.

The Comets ' celebrating senior night for posts Shannon Kell and Crystal Huntley and guard Erin Kinney ' responded with a 9-0 surge to close the half and trailed just 25-21 at the break.

We struggled on defense early, said Scott Dippel, Crater's first-year head coach. And they played great defense in the first quarter.

The Comets continued their climb in the third period, pulling even at 33-all with 3:30 remaining on the last of junior point guard Whitney Black's three 3-pointers.

Junior post Dani Montgomery's putback with 2:05 to go in the third gave Crater a 36-34 lead, its first since 1-0.

The Comets held a 40-37 edge entering the fourth and, after five ties in the quarter, looked in good shape with a 55-52 lead and 1:51 remaining.

But Morin took an in-bounds pass from sophomore point guard Carlson for a layup, then watched Carlson sink one penalty free throw before sneaking into the lane to corral the second, errant attempt and bank home another field goal.

Julia (Sobolik) did a really good job of boxing out her person, so there was a lot of open space, Morin said of the play that pushed Ashland in front to stay. I saw the ball going off to the left, so I was like, 'I'm gonna go for it.'

After Crater missed two shots and senior forward Chloe Hansen rebounded for the Grizzlies, sophomore guard Hilary Huyett was pure with two free throws to earn Ashland a 59-55 advantage and top off a clutch 7-0 run.

I knew we could come back, said Huyett, who collected 10 points and six assists in all. We have great players, and I knew that we'd put something together and make it happen.

But the Comets weren't dead just yet.

Montgomery's driving jumper with 41.5 seconds on the clock was followed by a slick steal by Black, and Crater called timeout with 27.2 ticks left.

Junior forward Katie Robertson missed a 3-pointer and Black rebounded and was off with a jumper before Huntley won the ball and was fouled with 11.6 seconds to go.

Her first attempt rattled out ' in and out, in and out, all night, Dippel said ' and the second bounced off the front rim.

Morin rebounded and calmly drilled the final two of her 15 free throws, making 10, with 9.2 seconds remaining to virtually seal the game.

Black and Montgomery missed rushed 3-pointers in the final seconds.

Marla was possessed, said Steve Humann, the Grizzlies' first-year head coach. She made a speech yesterday to the team, that we hadn't won here in forever ... and again at halftime.

You saw the player of the year in the Southern Oregon Conference out there.

Ashland also received key contributions from Hansen and Sobolik, who combined for 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Black and Montgomery continued their stellar play with 18 and 17 points, respectively. Montgomery also had eight rebounds and five assists, while Black combined seven boards with three steals. Kinney added 11 points.

Tons of aspects of this game they won handily, said Dippel, whose team did post a 39-34 edge in rebounding but was outshot from the field ' 40.9 percent (18-for-44) to 34.4 percent (21-of-61) ' and the line ' 20-for-27 to 12-of-19.

But with 50-some seconds left, we still made plays and had a shot.

ASHLAND (61) ' Hansen 9, Sobolik 8, Morin 22, Huyett 10, Carlson 6, Roupp 6, Hill 0. Totals: 18-44 20-27 61.

CRATER (57) ' Robertson 2, Kell 4, Huntley 2, Kinney 11, Black 18, Montgomery 17, Green 0, Wasniewski 2, Stoner 1. Totals: 21-61 12-19 57.

Ashland ................................... 16 9 12 24 ' 61

Crater .................................... 10 11 19 17 ' 57

3-point goals ' Ashland 5 (Huyett 2, Carlson 1, Roupp 2), Crater — (Black 3).

JV score ' Ashland 41, Crater 34.

Ashland's Marla Morin fights for control of the ball with Crater's Katie Robertson, left, and Dani Montgomery. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven