Ashland gets physical, pounds GP

Saturday's loss to South Medford was a wake-up call of sorts for the Ashland High boys soccer team.

The 6A Panthers cranked up the intensity, the Grizzlies failed to match it, and the result was a 1-0 victory for South.

On Tuesday, Ashland faced a similarly determined Grants Pass team. This time, the Grizzlies were ready.

Neil Presicci had a goal and an assist and Dakota Wolff scored twice as Ashland muscled its way to a 4-1 victory over Grants Pass in what turned out to be a bump-filled, bruising Southern Oregon Hybrid battle at Ashland Middle School.

Presicci blasted home the first goal of the match when he cashed in on a free kick just outside the box in the 26th minute, and Wolff headed in Vidal Reyes' cross in the opening minute of the second half to give the Grizzlies an insurmountable 3-0 lead.

Grants Pass out-shot Ashland 11-4 in the second half and 17-12 overall, but couldn't match the Grizzlies' phenomenal finishing touches, which included a stellar rainbow shot from Murray that put Ashland ahead 2-0 just before halftime.

"A lot of people can bring it up to the goal, but we're really good at just putting it away," said Murray, who leads the Grizzlies with five goals. "Until you score, the buildup doesn't really mean anything."

The win improved Ashland to 3-1 heading into Saturday's game against North Medford; Grants Pass fell to 2-1-1.

The Grizzlies' attempt to control the tempo went awry in the early going as the Cavers peppered Ashland goalkeeper Zach Hartman. The senior was up to the challenge, making several tough saves, including one off a powerful header by Jeremy Woodruff at the seven-minute mark.

Slowly, the Grizzlies regained control. The powerfully-built Presicci, a senior midfielder, played a major role in the turnaround, patrolling the middle, squashing runs and generally wreaking havoc on Grants Pass' offense. He hurt the Cavers' defense, too, capitalizing on one of Grants Pass' first mistakes — fouling Wolff as he dribbled into scoring range, as the teams continued to toil in a scoreless tie. Presicci's low, hard shot zipped through Grants Pass' wall and past keeper Aidan Maxwell for a 1-0 AHS lead.

About 15 minutes later Presicci was at it again, dishing a pass in traffic to Murray, who chipped a high-arching shot over Maxwell's head for a pretty 2-0 lead.

"I really like those," Murray said.

Ashland's third goal culminated its best combination of the match, and all but finished off the Cavers.

After Ashland moved the ball downfield on its first offensive push of the second half, Reyes ended up with possession in the right side of the box. He quickly found Wolff rushing toward the near post, and Wolff put his head down and redirected the ball into the back of the net past the diving Maxwell.

"It was a great pass, all I had to do was head it in," said Wolff.

Grants Pass finally got on the board in the 51st minute when Kevin Wilcox blasted home a laser shot into the upper right corner of the net from about 20 yards out, cutting the lead to 3-1. But five minutes later, Ashland got it back when Dylan Fisher was fouled in the box and Wolff converted the penalty kick.

That three-goal cushion held up, but not without a few close calls and a pair of yellow cards handed out to Ashland. The cards were indicative of game's intensity, as players from both sides dished out plenty of bumps and hard slide-tackles, aggressive plays that twice erupted into brief shoving matches.

"I think the tension was really high," Murray said. "The 6A teams are not really into getting beat by a 5A team, so coming into the game they're already pretty (ticked) off. We've beat them in the past and it looked a little bit like a revenge match for them."

It didn't work out like that for the visitors. In a way, Grants Pass can thank South Medford for that.

"South Medford kind of took it to us because we weren't ready for intensity of play," Ashland head coach Brad Roupp said, referring to Saturday's loss. "Today, Grants Pass came with a lot of intensity and they were tough — they were strong, physical and came at us hard — and we stood up to it. And at some point we actually were the aggressors. And once we were the aggressors, goals started to come."

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