Grizzlies expect major challenge from Lava Bears

On paper, the Ashland High boys soccer team appears to be the clear favorite in its Class 5A quarterfinal game against Bend.

Ashland (9-5-1) is the top seed from the Southern Sky Conference while Bend (11-3-2) finished third in the Intermountain, and the Grizzlies are coming off a 3-1 win over Woodburn, which beat Bend earlier in the season.

But Ashland head coach Brad Roupp knows better. The Lava Bears, he points out, played a large chunk of their season without several key players as they served multiple-game suspensions. That may explain why the Lava Bears waxed 6A foes South Medford and North Medford by a combined score of 11-1 early in the season, then suffered back-to-back losses to Crescent Valley and Woodburn, two teams that have already been eliminated.

"We know they're fast, they're strong on they're smart," Roupp said, "but that's also what we know about us. So, we haven't scouted them like we normally would but we know they have strong forwards, they play the ball smart and they're going to be extremely determined. And so that's how we've got to go. We've got to go there and put everything on the line."

These days, the Lava Bears are rolling, having won their last six games by a combined score of 20-5. Ashland is streaking too, having won five in a row by a combined score of 23-4, including Tuesday's impressive win over the No. 6-ranked Bulldogs.

In other words, though both teams are ranked No. 11 in the state, Saturday's elite eight clash — scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at 15th Street Field in Bend — will feature two teams with legitimate championship possibilities.

"No matter what, if we stick to the game plan it's going to be a great game to watch and be a part of," said Ashland senior forward Adam Pavlich, who leads the Grizzlies with 10 goals.

The playoff pressure will be nothing new to either team. The Grizzlies have made a habit of playing one or two postseason games a year and advanced all the way to the 5A finals last season before losing to Churchill. Bend is a 5A powerhouse as well, and nearly earned a championship date with Ashland last year before losing to Churchill in the semifinals.

The Lava Bears advanced to the quarterfinals by beating fourth-ranked Sherwood in the first round and third-ranked Cleveland in the second round. Both those wins came on the road, where Bend has won eight of nine matches (the Lava Bears are 3-2-2 at home).

Ashland's defense has paved the way for its recent winning streak. The Grizzlies, who are 4-2-1 in the road, have allowed one goal in their last three games.

"We've just really meshed as a defense," Ashland junior fullback Dakota Wolff said. "We've really figured out what we needed to do and we've been focusing on it, and we've done well."

Wolff added that Ashland may need a nearly flawless defensive effort to eliminate Bend, which averages 3.1 goals per game.

"We can't allow (the Lava Bears) to create chances for themselves and really stop them in the backfield, because that's where they're going to be dangerous," he said. "Their strikers are very fast — they've scored lots of goals.

"We have to control where they go. We can't let them play us. We need to play them."

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