It was a subtle move, hardly noticeable. Alex Murray stepped toward the ball as the South Medford wall braced for the impending indirect kick just outside the penalty box. Then he stopped, and seem to re-think it.
But no, in the improvisational world of prep soccer things are not always as they seem; quick thinking and coincidence are easily confused.
"A teammate ran right in front of me (before the kick) and I told him, 'Get out of the way, that's where I'm going,'" Murray said, "and it opened right up."
Murray's shot skidded through the right side, tying the game 1-1 in the 70th minute. That completed the scoring, and after the nonconference game the Grizzlies (1-0-1) left the field as confident as ever in their defense, but not so sure about an offense that's produced just two goals in two games.
"I definitely didn't think we played as well as we could have," Murray said. "We wanted to possess the ball. Didn't happen, so we got frustrated and started playing long ball. But I think once we settle down and play our game, things will change."
The first post-reclassification clash between Ashland and South (0-2-1) was supposed to be a friendly between two teams from different conferences and different classes, but the former Southern Oregon Conference rivals played most of the game as if a 4A playoff spot was on the line. There was banging, outstanding efforts on both sides, six yellow cards worth of emotion and aggressive slide tackles.
"They played hard," Ashland head coach Eisa Tiaa Tutu said.
After a scoreless first half, South (0-2-1) finally broke Ashland's bending defense in the 64th minute when Humberto Cortez booted a shot into the upper right corner of the net from about 10 yards out. One minute after Ashland keeper Wes Overland made a lunging save to deny Cortez, the junior striker took a slicing through pass from Brian Avila and cranked home an unblockable dagger.
"I looked up and I saw an opportunity to shoot it," Cortez said. "I wasn't really open, but (Overland) thought I was going to the far post and I was going in."
With Ashland's offense struggling to find its way, Cortez's goal looked like it would hold up. But the Grizzlies, who were out-shot 8-4 in the second half and 12-9 overall, caught the Panthers off guard on a quick reset, leading to a foul. That gave Murray his chance.
The Panthers had good scoring opportunities in the final seven minutes but their indirect kick from 25 yards out wasn't close and Cortez's farewell boot hit the crossbar.
Utilizing excellent ball control and blazing speed, Cortez pushed Ashland's defense all game long. He came close on two scoring opportunities in the first half, including one right at the goal.
"They have small, quick guys so (our plan) was to stick tight to them, play hard and not let them get the ball, first of all, and then if they do just stick tight and not let them pass it off," Ashland defender Rafael Gonzales said.
Despite the low score, the game also featured several spectacular plays &
mostly of the near-miss variety. One of the most impressive came in the 54th minute, when Ashland's Nate Roupp aired out a perfect pass ahead to Adam Pavlich, whose leaping header hit the crossbar. Another occurred in the 10th minute, when Cortez sidestepped an Ashland defender, loaded up, and rocketed an 18-yard shot that would have scored inside the near post if not for Overland's diving save.
"Actually, we played a pretty good game," Tiaa Tutu said. "We just didn't connect and we didn't push the way we were supposed to. We had more opportunities to score goals. We still have to work on that to be more accurate on opportunities to finish."
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Grizzlies, Panthers settle for tie