Brad Roupp knows when his team needs a practice and when it needs a pool party.
Today, he's decided, is a good day for a swim.
The Ashland High boys soccer team needs all the cooling off it can get after spending most of Tuesday afternoon chasing South Medford's arsenal of quick-striking forwards, who carried the Panthers to a 3-1 nonconference victory at North Mountain Park.
South (3-1) outshot the Ashland 31-12, including 15-9 on goal. Still, Ashland (1-1-1) found a way to keep it close. The Grizzlies cut a 2-0 deficit to 2-1 with about five minutes to go on a header by Adam Pavlich and had a decent shot at knotting the game moments later before South Medford's Armando Marin sealed the deal with a point-blank goal.
It was Ashland's first regular season loss since Sept. 9, 2008, when South, a Class 6A program, beat Ashland 1-0, and marks just the fourth time in their last 28 games that a Grizz opponent scored more than two goals.
"(The Panthers) have some depth in their attack and they have some seniors that are just difficult for us to stay with," Roupp said. "I think depth plays an issue. And we're a younger team and I think when you're playing against a group of seniors like that they can wear you down, not just physically but emotionally, and I think that played a role today."
Ashland was the aggressor early but couldn't cash in on several scoring opportunities before the Panthers struck in the 30th minute. Senior midfielder Brian Avila roped in a perfect cross to senior forward Kory Kellum, who headed a laser over Ashland keeper Noah Sohl.
The Grizzlies nearly tied the game as the final seconds of the first half ticked away. Senior forward Pablo Leal fired two shots from five yards in front of the goal, but his right-footer sailed high and his header was saved by Panthers' keeper Luis Guzman.
The Panthers dominated most of the second half, outshooting Ashland 18-6, but were thwarted at the goal alternately by Ashland's scrambling defense and their own inability to finish. Avia finally changed that in the 70th minute, beating Ashland's second-half keeper Zach Hartman on a breakaway, one-versus-one attempt.
Hartman, a junior, was one of the busiest players on the field in the second half, tallying seven saves, many of the diving and extending variety. Sohl, a senior, came through with five saves of his own, as Ashland's last line of defense prevented a would-be blowout.
"They're both really good keepers, so we're testing them both and giving them both experience," Roupp said. "It worked out nicely."
Pavlich's header off Ian Murray's corner kick gave Ashland new life with eight minutes to go. Pavlich nearly tied the game on the Grizzlies' next push up the field, but his shot from about 20 yards out sailed wide right.
"We had opportunities, too, and sometimes they go in and sometimes they don't," Roupp said. "Tonight they didn't go in but I was extremely happy with the way we played. We were competing with them, we were challenging for the balls, we had some possession that worked well. We did a good job."
Marin scored off a nice cross from Avia in the 75th minute to put the game out of reach.
Ashland will relax today before Thursday's game against another Class 6A program, North Medford.
Ashland's Southern Sky Conference opener is Sept. 29 at Mazama.
At Grants Pass, Niki Small had 15 kills, seven blocks and six aces to guide Ashland to a 25-18, 25-27, 25-12, 25-22 road win over Grants Pass on Tuesday.
Hannah Stocking added 10 kills, Callie McCoy had 26 assists and Liz Westmoreland recorded 17 digs and nine aces for the Grizzlies.
Mikaela Zottola had nine kills and five blocks for Grants Pass, and Rebekah Holman added 14 digs and five kills while Mikayla Morgan had 25 assists and 10 digs. Kelsey Frey chipped in with six kills and Hannah Johnson had four blocks for the Cavers.