Grizzlies relish shot at redemption

Allison Gida said it best.

"We look at it as revenge."

That's at least part of what the second-ranked Ashland High girls basketball team will be looking to attain tonight, when ninth-ranked West Albany comes to town for an OSAA Class 5A state playoff game. The round of 16 clash will be held at Mountain Avenue Gym. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

The two teams met in the same round and venue almost exactly one year ago, with West Albany surviving a late Ashland surge to win that game 50-45.

This time, the Grizzlies insist they're better, more confident and are excited to have a chance at redemption against the Mid-Willamette Conference co-champions.

"It's one of those games where there will be no lack of motivation for the girls," said first-year Ashland head coach Steve Farley, who has guided the second-ranked Grizzlies to 23 straight wins since their 0-2 start. "That (was) a pretty common theme this week, remembering that game from last year. I think they're pretty excited to get a second shot at (West Albany)."

The Bulldogs (20-5) finished the regular season tied with No. 8 Corvallis and No. 10 Silverton atop the Mid-Willamette. They had their sights set on a solo title and the league's top seed to state, but had to settle for a co-title and the No. 2 seed after taking a 71-37 loss to Silverton in the second-to-last game of the regular season.

There's a reason why that lopsided score doesn't fit the rest of West Albany's results: the Bulldogs were playing without all-star guard/forward Deijonae Slade, who is also expected to miss tonight's game.

Ashland is aiming to clinch its second trip to the final site in three years after advancing all the way to the big-school quarterfinals in 2006. There, the road is expected to get even bumpier: the winner of tonight's game will be on the same side of the final eight-team bracket as No. — Jefferson (23-0), the only undefeated team left, and No. 2 Willamette (24-1).

Video by Orville Hector | Daily Tidings

"We play as a team and we want it so bad," Ashland junior post Brenna Heater said. "Every girl on the team wants to win. I think we're going to pull through this time and go to state."

As usual, the Grizzlies are expected to have a size advantage, with Heater (6-foot-3), Natalie DelCarlo (6-2) and Layla Zare (6-0) standing taller than any of their West Albany counterparts. Farley expects the Bulldogs to combat that disadvantage with a zone defense and a perimeter-oriented offense that could test Ashland's patience.

The Grizzlies rely heavily on the Heater's dominance down low, but the powerful post has plenty of help around her. Gida, a sophomore, can score and set up her teammates, and junior guard Kelsey McKinnis is deadly from outside. Senior guard Heidi Siebenlist and senior forward Rachel Pavlich also play key roles on an Ashland team that is 17-1 against 5A teams and 10-1 at home.

Tonight will be the Grizzlies' first game since Feb. 19, and they haven't played in a competitive game since Feb. 15. Farley expects that streak to end tonight with or without Slade, who scored 11 points against the Grizzlies last season.

"One you get to the playoffs, you're not going to have an easy game," Farley said. "It's going to be tough teams night in and night out. If we can get this one (tonight), it would be a great test for us and give us some momentum going into the state tournament."

— Video by Orville Hector | Daily Tidings

Sports editor can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.

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