Grizz boys, girls hoopsters eye top seeds to state tourney

Larry Kellems remembers last year's trip to Wilsonville — the early foul trouble, the 17-point fourth-quarter deficit, the valiant comeback attempt by the Grizzlies and finally the season-ending loss.

Nothing against the Willamette Valley, but Ashland High's head boys basketball coach would rather stick around Ashland this time around.

The eighth-ranked Grizzlies (17-8) can do that and greatly improve their playoff position in a Southern Sky Conference seeding game Saturday night at Mountain Avenue Gym. A win — the opponent is yet to be determined — and the Grizzlies will host sixth-ranked Glencoe (15-8) on March 6; but if Ashland loses, it's back to Wilsonville for a rematch with the second-ranked Wildcats (23-2).

"I mean, this (seeding game) is hugely important," Kellems said. "I've seen Wilsonville and they are very, very good. And we know having been there a year ago that it's not someone we want to see again until Mac Court [the final site for the 5A playoffs]. Glencoe we've scouted twice, and I feel like they're beatable. Especially at home."

The game is scheduled to tipoff at 8:15 p.m. and will be the second of an SSC doubleheader.

The Ashland girls also will play for the SSC's top seed to state, against an opponent to be determined, at 6:30 p.m. A win by the third-ranked Grizz girls (20-5) will earn them a second-round home game March 5 against either the Northwest Oregon No. 4 seed or the Intermountain Conference No. 3 seed. A Grizz loss also yields a home game, but the opponent in that scenario would be either Springfield (9-7) or sixth-ranked Willamette (14-3), the defending state champions.

Besides an SSC opponent, the Ashland boys on Saturday will also be battling injuries and sickness. Starting guard and leading scorer Billy Hansen sprained his left ankle last week and aggravated it during Wednesday's practice, and the Grizzlies' second-leading rebounder, Ian Kendall, bruised his tailbone during Friday's win at Mazama. Both are expected to play Saturday.

That's good news for the Grizzlies, who don't want anything to spoil the chemistry that's developed as the team has won five of its last six games and eight straight on the road.

When asked if his team is peaking, Kellems didn't hesitate.

"I think so, I really do," he said. "I think we fortunately have a senior-laden team. These guys know what it was like to play Wilsonville last year. We've played extremely tough to get back in it, so they know what to expect going into the playoffs and how much they need to elevate their play in order to compete from here on out."

AHS girls basketball coach Tom McCracken is anticipating a rematch with Crater on Saturday. The Comets finished second to the Grizzlies in the SSC and were the only team to push Ashland — the Grizzlies swept the three-game series by a combined nine points.

"It's hard to beat a team four times, although we're planning on doing it," McCracken said.

The Grizz girls are led by senior Allison Gida, who does a little bit of everything, including lead the offense from the point, defend opposing bigs and take virtually every important shot. Gida leads the Grizzlies in every major statistical category — she averages 17.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 6.1 steals — despite a tendency to rack up fouls in bunches. McCracken doesn't like seeing his best player pick up two or three fouls in the first half, but says that with the aggressive Gida, it's an occupational hazard.

"Allison only knows one speed," McCracken said.

When Gida's out, or off, the Grizzlies will also look to Kayla Reynolds, Drew Van Vleck, Katie Patton or Callie McCoy. But, as McCracken points out, Gida's unique ability to carry a team on her back makes her vital to Ashland's postseason aspirations.

"Two of the three offenses that we use are Allison-oriented," McCracken said. "Let's face it, if you've got somebody like her you better be taking advantage of it. Our offense is not an equal opportunity offense. We'd like to have her in there."

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