Bend knocks out Ashland

If a picture is worth a thousand words, no image spoke louder than Ashland High girls soccer coach Eric Wolff embracing crestfallen goalkeeper Rinchen Thomas following the Grizzlies' 2-0 loss to undefeated Bend in the Class 5A girls soccer quarterfinal match at North Mountain Park on Saturday.

Just a freshman, Thomas had earned the starting spot in goal early this season and had shown steady improvement as the Grizzlies (9-6) finished second in the Southern Sky Conference. Her finest moment may have come in the second round of the playoffs, when she blanked favored Crescent Valley 1-0.

But facing an experienced team that had surrendered just two goals in 15 games this season, Wolff knew Thomas would need to be flawless if the Grizzlies were to pull an upset.

Those chances evaporated rather early when, in just the game's eighth minute, a seemingly innocent free kick from 20 yards away by Bend's Cori Ervin trickled off the finger tips of Thomas and into the top right corner of the Ashland net, giving Bend a 1-0 lead and setting the tone for an afternoon of almosts for the home side.

"It was a playable ball," Bend coach Bob Welch said. "It was right underneath the bar, but had the girl been on her line, she probably could have jumped up and got it. It would have taken a very good save to do it."

"I thought she was going to grab it, but I think it just nicked the tips of her fingers and went in," Ervin said.

Bend (16-0), which advances to Tuesday's semifinal against North Eugene in its quest for a third consecutive title match appearance, may have gotten another break on the play as well.

"I saw that two of our girls were offsides, but the head referee said they did not affect the play, so he did not go with the AR's (assistant referee) decision to call them offsides and let the goal stand," Welch said.

Trailing 1-0, the Grizzlies worked hard for the equalizer and had a series of chances late in the first half. Three of Ashland's four shots came before halftime, but none would get past Bend goalkeeper Emily Miller, who recorded her 14th shutout of the season.

"We gave ourselves a couple of decent opportunities," Ashland coach Eric Wolff said. "Towards the end of the first half, we had a couple of really good opportunities."

The Grizzlies' lone true scoring chance of the second half came on Kelsey McKinnis' free kick in the 50th minute, but Miller was in position, saw the shot all the way and made the save.

"Our defense is so solid; they're the anchor of our team," said Bend senior Ali Freisen, one of three players who were on the 2006 state championship team.

Bend controlled the ball on Ashland's side of the field for most of the afternoon and finished with an 8-4 shot advantage.

"We were close, just not quite there," Wolff said. "If one of those passes that's a little behind is on the money, it's a breakaway and a score. We just needed a little ounce of luck."

The Lava Bears got an insurance tally in the 76th minute, when junior forward Kelsey Corny faked out a defender with a series of one-on-one moves and put the ball past Thomas for a 2-0 lead.

"We were in the game the whole time," said McKinnis, one of two Ashland seniors. "They just connect all their passes really well and that's something that we struggled with a little bit today."

"We have a lot to look back on that we could be proud of this season," McKinnis said. "We improved so much from our first game to our last, leaps and bounds. I'm definitely satisfied with our season. Everyone would like to go all the way, but we did great."

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