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Grizz girls stun Comets with late comeback

CENTRAL POINT — Her team on the ropes and on the road, Allison Gida entered the fourth quarter one foul away from disqualification.

That created a dilemma for Ashland head coach Tom McCracken. Should he sit his floor leader, the defending Southern Sky Conference player of the year, or chance it? He chanced it.

"He's like, 'Don't foul, be very careful,'" Gida said of McCracken's advice.

Then the Grizzlies' first-year coach added something else: "We need you in there."

Did they ever.

Gida scored four of her 12 points in the fourth quarter and dished out the game-clinching assist too, as Ashland used a clutch 13-2 rally to fend off Crater 41-37 Friday in a key battle between league title contenders at Crater High.

The Comets (6-6, 1-1 SSC) had a chance to tie the game in the final frantic seconds, but Leona Steel's driving layup attempt missed and Gida passed ahead to a streaking Drew Van Vleck for the game-clinching layup.

"Getting that one on the road definitely puts us one step ahead, plus we needed that for ourselves," said Ashland's Kelsey McKinnis, one of three Grizzlies who scored 12 points. "That's a good win, that was a battle, and we did a lot of things that we can improve on, too. So we know that if we play to the best of our ability, we've got it."

The Comets finished the third quarter with a 14-0 run to take their largest lead of the night, 30-25. Eight of those points were scored after Gida was pulled, benched for picking up her fourth foul with 3:16 to go in the quarter.

The Grizzlies (7-6, 2-0) responded by scoring the first six points of the fourth quarter and led 38-32 after Gida's rebound put-back with 2:19 to go.

The difference, to Crater coach JT Thomas, was obvious: "Gida came back into the game," he said. "It was that simple."

The Comets got back to within 38-37 on Lexie Kappel's rebound follow with 53 seconds left. Ashland sophomore Kayla Reynolds hit 1 of 2 free throws with 28.4 seconds to go to set up the final sequence.

Senior post Natalie DelCarlo scored six of her 12 points in the second quarter to help the Grizzlies take a 20-14 lead at the half. She burned the Comets inside all night, finishing with 14 rebounds and two blocks.

Gida also added seven rebounds and five assists for the Grizzlies, who have won five of their last six games since starting the season 2-5.

Junior guard Jen Noon had 14 points, nine rebounds and two steals to lead the Comets. She nailed four 3-pointers, including two during Crater's third-quarter explosion.

Steel added seven points and Brie Britton had four points and five boards.

Both teams shot poorly from the floor and from the free throw line, where Ashland had a chance to put the game away earlier in the fourth. The Grizzlies missed 6 of 9 free throw attempts in the final quarter and were 8 of 16 for the game. Crater was even worse, hitting just 3 of 10 freebies.

"It's a growing up game, is what it ends up being," Thomas said. "We've got a group of kids that are growing up.

"We're not happy not winning here on our home floor "¦ but on the other hand we've got some things that we're getting better at."

The Comets proved that in the third.

After a 3 by Gida and two free throws by McKinnis put the Grizzlies ahead 25-16, the Comets came roaring back. Noon started the rally with back-to-back treys. Steel followed with a bomb of her own, tying the game for the first time since it was 9-9 at the end of the first quarter.

"We just had a little bit of a breakdown, a little non-communication," McKinnis said of Crater's third-quarter comeback. "We took a couple plays off on D and you can never do that."

Crater's rally put the pressure back on Ashland to start the fourth, and the Grizzlies felt it.

"We were all a little nervous and scared," Gida said, "and then we broke out from that."

DelCarlo kicked off that effort with an inside bucket, and Gida kept it going with a driving layup with 6:19 to go. DelCarlo's second basket off a Gida pass — Gida had three assists in the quarter — put the Grizzlies ahead with 5:55 left.

Crater finally ended the skid moments later on a drive by Steel, but McKinnis answered with her second 3 of the night from the right corner to put Ashland ahead to stay.

"They're one of the teams that we have to fight for the conference championship," McCracken said, "so it's a good win."

ASHLAND (41) — Zehren 0, Van Vleck 4, Contreras 0, McKinnis 12, Reynolds 1, Gida 12, DelCarlo 12. Totals: 13 8-16 41.

CRATER (37) — Kappel 5, Noon 14, Steel 7, Saling 1, Powell 2, Britton 4, Cobb 4. Totals: 14 3-10 37.

Ashland 9 11 5 16 — 41

Crater 9 5 16 17 — 37

3-point goals — Ashland 4 (McKinnis 2, Gida 2), Crater 6 (Noon 4, Kappel 1, Steel 1). Fouled out — DelCarlo.