Grizzlies aim to press way to state QFs

Through 26 games, the Ashland High girls basketball team has attacked opponents with a full-court press that's successfully rattled top-tier opponents (Crater, North and South Medford) and gobbled up weaker ones (Eagle Point, Klamath Union).

Just because opponent No. 27 happens to have a few frontcourt players capable of out-muscling Ashland inside doesn't mean the Grizzlies will alter that strategy now.

"We know how we have to play and we think we're pretty fundamentally strong at it defensively," AHS head coach Tom McCracken said. "It's just a matter of going out and getting it done now against a couple bigger people."

The No. 3-ranked Grizzlies (21-5), the Southern Sky Conference champions, host unranked Sherwood (15-10), the No. 4 seed out of the Northwest Oregon Conference, in a Class 5A state playoff game Friday at Mountain Avenue Gym. The winner will advance to next week's eight-team state tournament at McArthur Court in Eugene.

The Grizzlies enter the game on a 14-game winning streak after running the table in the SSC then trouncing No. 10 Crater in the league tournament championship game.

Sherwood, which actually finished tied for third with Century in the final NWOC standings but lost the tie-breaker, has won seven of its last nine games, including a gutsy 61-57 road win over Mountain View in the first round of the playoffs.

The Bowmen are led by post Megan Shields. Sherwood's top scorer poured in 28 points in Saturday's win, which improved the team's road record to 8-3.

After watching game film of the Bowmen, McCracken said Sherwood has another player like Shields and that those two will give the visitors a size advantage inside. Ashland will counter with an aggressive defense whose goal will be to make entry passes as difficult as possible.

"So that's going to be a key," McCracken said, "to stay aggressive, but stay out of foul trouble."

Foul trouble has hurt the Grizzlies at times this season. Star senior point guard Allison Gida, headed to the University of Utah on a basketball scholarship, has racked up fouls in bunches while attempting to guard opposing post players, something she'll be doing again Friday.

When Gida manages to stay out of foul trouble, she's a headache for opposing coaches. At 5-foot-10 she can guard every position on the court. On offense, few wings have been able to keep Gida away from the basket, and opposing guards are simply overpowered.

If Sherwood is anything like most every other Ashland opponent, it will employ a defense designed to keep the ball away from Gida, who averaged 17.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 6.1 steals per game during the regular season. The Grizzlies are expecting that, and didn't seem too concerned about it prior to Wednesday's practice.

"They might focus on Allison, but we're just going to focus on good passing, and get open shots for everyone on our team," Ashland senior guard Katie Patton said. "I don't think that's going to be a worry for us."

The playoff pressure will not be anything new for the Grizzlies, who have qualified for the postseason every year since 1997. Ashland also has made a habit of advancing to the final site. Last season, the Grizzlies rolled all the way to the state semifinals for the second time in four years before losing to North Eugene and settling for fifth place.

Sherwood will be looking for its second-ever quarterfinal berth — and second in a row — after finally breaking through for the first time last season. The Bowmen didn't place, however, going two-and-out at the Chiles Center.

Regardless of the outcome, the game will be the Mountain Avenue Gym farewell for Ashland's six seniors. One of those seniors believes that the Grizzlies are well equipped to handle the pressure of a do-or-die game.

"I think we have a lot of composure when games are really close," Ashland's sharp-shooting guard Drew Van Vleck said. "And we all stay together. We've played against some teams in the past that when games are close, they'll just start yelling at each other and they'll get down on each other. But we're a really close group and we're all really close friends, and we stay positive with each other and I think that makes a big difference.

"The seniors, we all really, really want it, and since we've been (to the final site) twice before, we know what it's like and we know how to get there. We don't want to miss out on that experience our senior season."

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