Ashland boys storm into Class 5A quarterfinals
ASHLAND — Ashland head coach Abdiaziz Guled could tell that his team had a little extra zip in its step Wednesday night as it prepared to play its first state playoff game in two years.
And with three thunderous strikes of the ball, the Grizzlies were able to do exactly what they set out to do — protect home turf.
Lucas Poareo Davidson scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with a wicked 25th-minute volley and Davidson Graham scored a pair of second-half goals within two minutes of each other to power sixth-seeded Ashland to a 3-0 win over No. 11 seed South Albany in the opening round of the Class 5A state playoffs at Walter A. Phillips Field.
“That was amazing. They were just beautiful goals,” Guled said after a brief pause to collect his thoughts. “They were just amazing shots and the players, they really wanted this game. They know it’s playoffs, they knew they had to protect our turf and they did a good job of that.”
How would one of the goal scorers describe the three goals?
“I would say ... pretty,” Poareo Davidson said with a laugh. “Yeah, I liked them.”
No matter what words come to mind, the win allowed Ashland (9-3-2) to advance into the 5A quarterfinals for the second time in as many years in which the playoffs have been held. The Grizzlies, who are unbeaten in their last six games after suffering a 3-1 loss to Eagle Point on Oct. 9, will face either No. 3 seed Corvallis or 14th-seeded Putnam on Saturday. A final score was not available as of press time.
“This was unbelievable, really,” Graham said. “We were all going crazy — we were all winning balls, winning the second balls, too, we were hammering it to them.”
A physical battle throughout, Ashland thought it had an early lead within the first 20 minutes, but saw a goal disallowed due to a foul in the box.
Six minutes later, though, the Grizzlies went in front courtesy of Poareo Davidson, a senior who played all over the field in Wednesday’s win.
Normally a defender, Poareo Davidson found himself in a more advanced spot just outside of the penalty area. As a loose ball rolled toward him, he unleashed a one-timer that headed to the netting at the far post in the blink of an eye to put the Grizzlies ahead 1-0.
“I’ve never scored the ball on that kind of drive,” Poareo Davidson said. “Today we switched up our lineup a lot and I switched up to midfield, so that was a new experience for me. When I got the ball, I just thought I’d take a few touches and not hold onto it for too long.”
Graham, a four-year starter, doubled the Grizzlies’ lead nine minutes into the second half. A lot like Poareo Davidson, Graham struck it as clean as he could have, sending his shot from the top of the 18-yard box into the top-left corner of the goal.
He didn’t wait long to make it 3-0, either, as less than two minutes later, Graham struck a free kick from 25 yards out with his left foot and bent it into the right side of the goal.
“My first free kick to score ever, actually,” Graham said.
Added Guled: “(Poareo Davidson and Graham) each contribute so much and they’ve come a long way, but tonight they put their stamp on the turf, on the game, and I’m so proud of them because it was a great night for the Grizzlies.”
South Albany (8-7), which played the final 12 minutes down a man after a player was sent off after receiving a red card, finished the game with more shots than Ashland, 17-14.
But many of the RedHawks’ shots weren’t on frame, with both teams recording five shots on target.
Ashland’s defense bent but never broke, with the likes of Cedric Huston and Gabriel Hernandez having strong performances in the center of the Grizzlies’ back line.
Four of the five saves Ashland keeper Mina Schepmann made came in the first half, and the Grizzlies secured their third shutout in the last five games. Schepmann’s biggest save of the night came two minutes after the Grizzlies went ahead 1-0, as he was able to tip a looping shot to the back post over the crossbar and out for a corner kick.
“We knew we had to keep them off the floor and that No. 20 (South Albany midfielder Christopher Monroy-Torres) had an amazing direct free kick,” Guled said. “We just said, ‘Let’s mark that man and not let them have any easy shots.’ I think that worked for us.”
“I thought our defense was our best trait, but tonight shows that our team can actually attack, too,” Graham added. “We can score goals, too, and I’m pretty happy about that.”
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.