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Grizzlies eke out win over Millers

ASHLAND — Their once comfortable lead all but gone, the Ashland Grizzlies huddled up around head coach Emily Stone to talk things over.

The theme during the timeout was simple.

"We didn't really say much," Ashland senior outside hitter Mo Keller said. "We settled ourselves down and we just said, 'Finish. Let's just finish.'"

Thanks to Keller, and a Springfield mistake, the Grizzlies finally did.

Keller had 18 digs and 11 kills, including the tie-breaker late in the fourth game, and Sam Boehnke added 14 kills and three aces as Ashland withstood a valiant upset bid by Springfield to pull out a 24-26, 25-14, 25-12, 25-23 victory in a second-round Class 5A play-in match Tuesday at Mountain Avenue Gym.

The win advances the Grizzlies to the round of 16, which will be seeded today based on the final OSAA rankings. Ashland was ranked No. 15 heading into to Tuesday's match, so a home game Saturday is unlikely. Round of 16 winners advance to the eight-team state tournament, to be held Nov. 12-13 at Liberty High School in Hillsboro

Springfield (3-14), the No. 5 team from the 5A Midwestern Hybrid, stormed back from deficits of 9-3 and 15-9 to steal Game 1 and looked primed to pull off another comeback in Game 4 before the Grizzlies woke up in the nick of time. After a tandem block by Carly Philpott and Daphne Chambers capped a 5-0 rally by the Millers, tying the match at 23-all, Keller delivered a huge spike that caromed off Chambers and out of bounds. With momentum back on its side, Ashland then clinched the match when Kasity Swain was called for a lift while trying to fight off Keller's line-drive serve.

The Grizzlies (11-8), the top seed out of the 5A Southern Oregon Hybrid, celebrated by running through a tunnel of students — a tradition at AHS — possibly for the last time this season.

"I think we underestimated that team," Stone said of the Millers, who were coming off a straight-game play-in win over Woodburn. "I think we looked at their record and we assumed that it was going to be a cakewalk, which is always a pretty dangerous bet in any sport, especially in volleyball because there are so many opportunities to make mistakes."

Cassie Hall led the Grizzlies with 37 assists, Selby Minor had eight kills and Teague Teece five kills and one block.

Ashland finished the match with just three blocks, as Springfield slugger Kassi Howarth, a lefty, delivered a 19-kill explosion.

"We worked on blocking a left-handed hitter (Monday) in practice and we couldn't quite get there," Stone said. "We were always a half step off or a half step early."

The Grizzlies looked primed for an easy postseason win while scoring nine of the first 12 points, and were still sitting pretty after a Springfield net violation gave Ashland a 15-9 lead. But the Millers suddenly got hot, using back-to-back spikes followed by an Ashland miscue to cut the deficit to three points, before inching closer on a spike by Howarth and a block by Philpott. A net violation tied the game at 16-all, and an Ashland passing error gave the Millers their first lead of the match.

Following a timeout, the Grizzlies regrouped long enough to seize a 23-21 lead, but the Millers answered again, fighting off a game point at 24-23 to take the opener on Swain's ace.

Swain had 12 kills for the Millers, while Mathison had 19 digs and setter Destiny Eklund 35 assists.

After the letdown, Stone told the Grizzlies that it was time to crank up the aggressiveness.

"We had to dictate the pace," she said. "We had to go and make them make mistakes "… rather than wait for them to mess up."

The strategy paid off immediately, as the Grizzlies ran out to an 8-0 lead in Game 2 on their way to leads of 16-9 and 23-11.

It was more of the same in Game 3. Ashland won the first three points and nine of the first 12 and wasn't threatened.

The fourth game was much more competitive, but the Grizzlies turned on the afterburners to escape a 17-all tie, prompting their fans to employ the "It's all over," chant.

It wasn't, thanks to the Millers' last-gasp rally, which included back-to-back aces by Swain.

With their first postseason match in the books, Keller says the Grizzlies are excited about facing their final hurdle before the state tournament.

"We're good," she said. "We're comfortable, we're ready. We're ready for state."

MARIST 3, EAGLE POINT 0 — At Eugene, Tatum Winter had seven kills and seven blocks for Eagle Point but Marist (12-9) proved too much in a 25-12, 25-11, 25-13 win during the Class 5A second round play-in game.

Jenna Richardson recorded four kills and Lesley Neilson added 18 digs for the Eagles (9-13).

Class 4A

HIDDEN VALLEY 3, BROOKINGS-HARBOR 0 — At Murphy, Hidden Valley advanced to the Class 4A final 16 with a 25-13, 25-14, 25-15 play-in home victory.

The top-seeded Mustangs (28-1) will host a state playoff game on Saturday.

Hidden Valley used tough serving to keep Brookings off balance and recorded 12 aces.

The Mustangs received seven kills and four blocks from Kara Fikso, and Elizabeth Venzon added six kills. Sabrina Peckham had a team-high five aces and came up with 28 digs and Amanda Doig passed out 28 assists.