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Grizzlies top Churchill in key MWL showdown

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If Ashland was going to lay claim to the Midwestern League boys soccer title, the Grizzlies knew they needed to come out with a top effort Saturday against Churchill at North Mountain Park.

Thankfully for head coach Abdiaziz Guled, that’s exactly what he saw on the pitch as his Ashland squad secured a pivotal 2-1 triumph over the visiting Lancers in a MWL race that started the day boasting three of the top five teams in the Class 5A state power rankings.

“It is big, it is huge,” said Guled of the victory. “I couldn’t sleep all night worrying about this game. I’m going to sleep now.”

“This was a needed win on both sides,” he added. “Churchill has some serious players and this game could’ve gone to either side.”

It was the first league loss suffered by Churchill (7-2-2, 3-1-1 MWL) and allowed Ashland (8-2-2, 5-0-1) to get a leg up on the Lancers and Eagle Point (10-2-1, 5-1-1) for the league title as well as potential home-field advantages come state playoff time.

The Grizzlies scored in the 12th minute on a far post corner kick by Kona Makai that was converted on a soaring header to the near post by Davidson Graham.

Ashland built a 2-0 advantage in the 31st minute when Makai sent a cross into the box that was redirected by Michael Holden past the goalkeeper.

Thanks to a solid defensive effort on both sides, that score held up until the 76th minute when Ashland committed a foul deep in its end and Churchill’s Harper Neubeck converted the free kick.

Still with a 2-1 edge, the Grizzlies held firm and were able to keep the Lancers at bay thanks to a stellar defensive effort by Milan Pyle, Sam Austin, Kai Larson, Michael Holden and Tali Parowski.

“Those defenders really just saved the day for us,” said Guled. “They did a great job and stepped up.”

Scott Gustafson, Simon Cropper and Carson Pindell were also especially productive for the Grizzlies, who cap the regular season with two road games in the coming week.

Girls Soccer

CHURCHILL 3, ASHLAND 0: At Ashland, Churchill junior Harmony Simmons scored the lone goal of the first half and the Lancers kept Ashland at bay for the Midwestern League win.

Churchill’s final goal came via an own goal by the Grizzlies (5-4-2, 2-3 MWL), who had five shots on goal and four corner kicks but couldn’t find the net against the Lancers (4-5-1, 3-1).

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneAshland's Davidson Graham (left, in air) connects a header off a corner kick for a goal in the 1st half.