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Ashland does its thing

There are good practices and there are bad ones. This time, the Ashland High girls' soccer team worked its way through both.

In a game that was meaningless in the Southern Sky Conference standings &

and thus, more of a tune-up for Ashland's Saturday showdown with Crater &

the Grizzlies used a first-half offensive surge to sideswipe Klamath Union 3-2 Tuesday at North Mountain Park.

The flashy, if not consistent, performance allowed Ashland to improve to 9-4 overall, 6-1 in league play heading into the regular-season finale. At stake against the Comets (4-2 SSC) will be the first-ever SSC title and home field advantage in the first round of the state playoffs.

"We have that excitement coming up, but we really haven't thought that far ahead yet," Ashland head coach Eric Wolff said.

And the Grizzlies played like it.

Ashland entered Tuesday's game already assured of a playoff spot, but played inspired anyway. Shooting and passing with equal precision, the Grizzlies put on a show for the small contingent of fans who braved temperatures in the mid-50s and a sweeping 14 mph wind.

Molly MacGraw scored two goals in the first 13 minutes and Hannah Sohl added what proved to be the game-winner 20 minutes later, as the Grizzlies won for the third time in a row since their 1-0 loss to Crater two weeks ago. That Oct. 10 loss apparently inspired Ashland's offense, which has since exploded for 13 goals.

The extraordinary first half was enough to overcome an ordinary second half against the feisty Pelicans (2-4 SSC), who scored in the 76th minute to get within one, then came perhaps a shoelace away from earning a penalty kick less than a minute later. Instead, Heather Case's physical steal against KU's Katie Gilbert inside the box was ruled legal, and the Grizzlies were able to run out the clock and avoid what could have been a major letdown.

The Pelicans' sudden revival came out of nowhere after Ashland dominated the first half. The Grizzlies blitzed KU both down the sidelines and through the middle, earning a massive 13-1 shooting advantage.

MacGraw scored first, stunning the Pels with a 25-yard moon shot from dead center that dropped perfectly behind KU goal keeper Kira Clark in the 10th minute.

Klamath's answer was equally stunning. Jordan Wendt booted a direct kick from just inside the midfield line into the Ashland box, where Jessica Spidal somehow ended up with the deflected pass and booted the ball past the diving Catie Pratt.

The 13th-minute goal gave the momentum back to the Pels, but only for about 30 seconds. That's because almost immediately after the restart MacGraw one-upped herself, beating Clark with another high-arching bomb, this time from about 30 yards away. After her second spectacular goal in three minutes, Ashland's sharp-shooting junior midfielder masked an almost apologetic smile &

a reaction she later explained.

"I tried to cross it, actually," she said, laughing.

Ashland's insurance goal was the prettiest of the day. Carolyn Thomas out-raced a KU defender into the right corner, used a vicious fake-out move to create space and draw out the defense then centered the ball to a wide-open Sohl for the easy score.

The Pelicans turned up their aggressiveness in the second half and the result was a much more even match, although Ashland still out-shot KU 8-6.

Sohl said the Grizzlies let their guard down.

"I think we just got a little bit lazy," she said. "We weren't going hard to the ball. We were just kind of playing a little bit slow, a little flat-footed."

Sohl missed a chance to extend the Grizzlies' lead in the 59th minute when her penalty shot sailed over the goal. It was the senior midfielder's second near miss of the game after her 40-yard attempt in the first half hit the crossbar.

Gilbert's left-footed strike from just inside the box gave the Grizzlies a momentary scare and added more ammunition to Wolff's postgame pep talk, which focused on the importance of consistency, something the Grizzlies will likely need in order to beat Crater.

"The first half was great, and then the second half we kind of got ahead of our game," he said, "but it's little things, it's fixable things &

nothing I'm worried about. And it's another good learning lesson.

"Against Crater we have to have two good halves, not just one good half."

Added Sohl: "(Crater is) a great team, definitely, but I think that if we play our game, and we stay focused and we play hard then it'll be a really good game &

and I think we can do it."

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.