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Grizzlies ease past Comets

To get a firm grasp on the scope of Ashland's complete and utter dismantling of Crater on Tuesday, one need not calculate the Grizzlies' massive advantage in shots, and even their equally lopsided differential in on-goal opportunities.

Instead, consider the following fact: Ashland goalkeeper Imani Sharpe scored a hat trick.

And Sharpe wasn't the only one.

Diego Harrison scored three goals in the first half and Sharpe did the same in the second as Ashland continued its late-season turnaround with a 9-1 victory over winless Crater at Ashland Middle School.

The victory improves the Grizzlies to 4-5-1, continuing their comeback from a 1-4-1 start. They've won three of their last five games, which also includes a 1-1 draw with South Medford.

Ashland can finish the regular season .500 or better by winning at least two of their last three games beginning Saturday at Roseburg.

"We came out to play our rhythm," Ashland coach Brad Roupp said, "and the kids passed the ball around, moved the ball and somewhat took their time in setting up plays to score but out of that came the results."

And those results were impressive.

Ashland out-shot Crater 14-1 in the first half and 15-5 in the second to score their second lopsided win over the Comets (0-9). The first meeting between the former Southern Sky Conference rivals wasn't this one-sided, however.

Ashland's Andres Garcia scored five minutes in and Harrison's onslaught followed, giving the Grizzlies a 4-0 halftime lead.

Experimenting with one-touches and more conservative shot selection — not to mention fielding only eight players instead of the standard 11 — didn't diminish Ashland's offensive firepower in the second half. Instead, the changes did exactly the opposite, as the Grizzlies unleashed 10 shots on goal, many at point-blank range.

Sharpe netted his first on a solo rush to the net seconds after the opening kickoff, then tallied his second in the 72nd minute and third in the 73rd.

"It seems pretty neat," said Sharpe, a former forward who volunteered to play keeper this season to fill a need. "I was mainly going for the assist, but I just miss-hit it on the third one. But that happens in soccer."

Josue Leal and Nick Chouard also found the back of the net for Ashland, with Chouard's boot completing the scoring, mercifully, in the 74th minute.

After that, the Grizzlies were content to play keep-away for the final six minutes plus stoppage time.

Not all of the goals were pretty — against Crater's porous defense, beauty was not necessary — but a few stood out. The first probably earned Vidal Reyes and Garcia the most style points.

Reyes, a junior fullback, began the play by dribbling unabated down the sideline parallel to Garcia, a sophomore forward, before sending a line drive cross into the box. Garcia intercepted it out of the air, booting it into the upper right corner of the goal.

Harrison ripped home Dylan Molnar's drop pass in the 34th to make it 3-0 and used a half-volley to score off Zahara Moyers-Cullumbine's pass one minute later for the 4-0 lead.

"We were just working on moving the ball around quickly and trying to get wide, and then working it in, getting crosses and finishing off of that," said Harrison, who transferred back to Ashland High over the summer after moving away to California prior to his sophomore year. "We've never been the kind of team that gets cocky after a big win against a lesser team, so we're always ready to play."

With the win well in hand, Ashland's second-half objective was twofold: improve ball movement, and get other players in the scoring column.

The Grizzlies accomplished at least one of those goals quickly when Sharpe dribbled through the Comets' defense on his way to an unassisted score.

After Sharpe's back-to-back goals near the end of the game, the only drama left was whether or not Ashland senior fullback Brenton Wileman would break through. He nearly did twice, but was denied by Crater keeper Victor Gutierrez on a penalty kick in the 65th and missed wide right on a breakaway opportunity in the 76th.

Other than that, nearly everything the Grizzlies attempted Tuesday worked, which Roupp says is important for a team that's closing in on the playoffs.

"Games like this can help with our confidence," Roupp said. "We know how to play tough teams and keep them from scoring, but now we have to score goals. We've had some trouble finishing so we worked on that this week and we worked on having each player want the ball. You gotta want the ball in order to play it well."