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Grizzlies alive and well after win over North

Stop the eulogy. Hold the obit. The Grizzlies aren't quite dead yet.

The Ashland High girls' basketball team revitalized its league title hopes and brought the soaring North Medford Black Tornado back down to earth Tuesday, with an emotionally-charged 57-51 Southern Oregon Conference victory at Mountain Avenue gym.

The Grizzlies entered the game having lost three straight and seemed on the verge of making it four, but a strong finish led by some unlikely heroes may have saved Ashland's season. Now the Grizzlies are 4-3 in the SOC and 13-4 overall, while North, which entered the game riding an eight-game winning streak, fell to 6-1 in league play and 13-4 overall.

Afterward, the Grizzlies could hardly contain their emotions and hinted at an off-the-court shakeup that left the team refocused and re-energized. The timing couldn't have been better.

"We've just been having some problems within the team lately, but they've been addressed," said Grizz junior guard Hilary Huyett, who scored a game-high 25 points. "Being a team, working together all the time, being on each other's side and being there for each other, that's really important obviously for a team and in the last few weeks we were getting away from that, and so tonight we were together. We were one."

The save

North Medford scored six straight to tie the game at 51 with 2:21 left, but Ashland answered with three free throws and a key rebound put-back by sophomore forward Tess Golling to walk off the court with its biggest

win of the season.

The Black Tornado had one last chance to tie the game, but sophomore guard Naomi Mautz missed a 3-point attempt with just under 30 seconds left and Huyett came down with the rebound.

She was fouled with 23.5 seconds left and hit both free throws to seal it.

It was an appropriate ending in more ways that one. Huyett went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half to keep the Grizzlies close, and Ashland ended up with a decisive 31-14 rebounding edge.

"I don't know if anything can match up to that," AHS sophomore guard Jamie Roupp said. "That was unbelievable. It came together. We talked about it, we worked on it and it came tonight, and that's the best win I think we've had in a long time."

Added Huyett: "It's the biggest win for us this season."

Huyett, who also had three steals, two assists and two blocks, was one of several clutch performers for Ashland. Seven Grizzlies scored in perhaps Ashland's most balanced game to date, and rebounds and assists were also spread out.

Junior guard Alysse Carlson had nine points, seven boards and four assists; Roupp had six points and five rebounds; freshman post Whitney Chase added six points, three rebounds and two steals; and Golling had three points and six boards.

North Medford had four players with nine points or more, led by Mautz and junior post Michelle Westermann, who both had 11.

Too close for comfort

The final three minutes were as intense and unpredictable as any stretch in the Grizzlies' season.

After two Westermann buckets, the second with 2:28 to go in the game, brought the Black Tornado within two, junior guard Kailey Bostwick hit two free throws to tie it up for the first time since the second quarter.

North then came out with a full-court press, which flustered the Grizzlies into consecutive turnovers. But North couldn't take advantage of either, managing only a turnover of their own and a missed jumper, and Ashland got the ball back with just under 2 minutes left.

The Grizzlies struggled at times against North's pressure and finished with 23 turnovers to the Tornado's nine, but overcame that by shooting 54 percent (19-for-35) while holding North to 37 percent (19-for-52).

"We told them the same things this week that we've told them all year," Grizz coach Steve Humann said. "We told them that we have to defend. Defense is what wins championships, and we did."

Big finish

North continued to press, but the strategy backfired when Carlson was hacked 30 feet from the basket with 1:48 left. She hit the first and rimmed out the second, but that's when Golling came through with the biggest rebound of the night. The hard-nosed 5-foot-9 wing, along with Chase, out-muscled the Black Tornado for the ball, turned, and banked in her only field goal of the night.

The Grizzlies got the ball back after a miss by Bostwick and seemed to get a break when junior post Abeni Hill was fouled with 1:08 left, but Hill missed both to keep North alive. Golling stormed in for another rebound after the second miss, but was called for traveling as she fell to the floor.

Moments later, another Bostwick drive was thwarted when Chase came up with a block that gave Ashland the ball back with just under a minute left.

Ashland failed to put the game away when Carlson was called for pushing off with 33 seconds left while attempting to dribble out the clock.

That gave the Black Tornado plenty of time to go for the tie, or a two and a steal.

North went for it all.

Following the timeout, Bostwick drove toward the right baseline before zipping the ball back to a wide-open Mautz at the top of the key. But Mautz, who hit two 3-pointers using her knuckleball style in the first half, hit nothing but rim and Huyett pulled down her sixth and final rebound.

"I'm just happy that we didn't let go when they started coming back," Roupp said.

Close from the start

There were 14 lead changes in the first half as both teams fought to gain control. North's biggest lead was by four at 13-9 in the first quarter and Ashland never led by more than three.

Buzzer-beating 3-pointers by Huyett gave Ashland a 14-13 lead after one and a 31-28 lead at the half.

The Grizzlies suddenly have a chance to make some noise in the conference. Their next three games are against Eagle Point, Klamath Union and South Medford, three teams with a combined league record of 4-17.

"We were in a little bit of a slump, but we took it back," Hill said. "I think the rest of the teams better watch out for us because we're coming."