Grizzlies take 1 from Crater, open playoffs next week

The Ashland High girls soccer team prevailed 1-0 over rival Crater in a Southern Sky Conference tiebreaker match Tuesday at North Mountain Park.

The Grizzlies, who clinched the league's No. — seed to the Class 5A state playoffs, now await the winner of a Silverton-Churchill matchup, which will determine who Ashland (9-3-3) will host next Tuesday in the round of 16.

Ashland senior Amanda Greenstein scored the game's lone goal in the 22nd minute on a pass from senior captain Molly MacGraw. Greenstein, driving down the right side of the box, stuck the ball low and inside the far post.

"Molly gave me the perfect pass and I just knew I had to put that goal in," said Greenstein. "It was such a perfect setup, I had to score and it felt amazing."

MacGraw and Greenstein worked well together on the offensive end all night, a chemistry that Greenstein said has come with time.

"I honestly think it's because we've played together since we were little kids and we know where each other are going to be," she said. "We just work really well together and I love playing with her."

Like the previous two meetings between the teams, Ashland dominated three-quarters of the game, out-shooting the Comets 13-3 in the first 68 minutes.

Physical play was plentiful throughout and no time was wasted getting it started. At times it looked more like a football game (American rules) than a soccer match. Intensity ran high and Ashland seemingly used it as fuel, winning footraces to loose balls and creating opportunities.

The Grizzlies had registered seven shots, scoring on one, before Crater (8-6-1) got one of their own in the 31st minute.

MacGraw was everywhere, assisting on Greenstein's goal as well as taking three first-half shots, one of which was on goal. The Grizzlies outshot the Comets 9-2 in the first half, putting three of their shots on goal to Crater's one.

Ashland continued to outwork the Comets to start the second half. Crater goalkeeper Katie Orr, who made five saves, broke up numerous Ashland scoring opportunities by aggressively attacking Ashland forwards who had worked past their defenders.

The Grizzlies' tenacious attack would have produced even more opportunities had they not been flagged for offsides five times.

Crater began to step up their offensive intensity midway through the second half, but were often denied by Ashland senior sweeper MacKenzie Hedges. Hedges was often the last line of defense between the Crater attack and Ashland senior keeper Catie Pratt, and Hedges was up to the task every time.

The Grizzlies nearly doubled their lead in the 70th minute when a crossing pass found a waiting Kelsey McKinnis, but a hand-ball was called on McKinnis, thwarting the opportunity.

Crater turned up the pressure late, recording four of their seven shots in the game's final 12 minutes, forcing Pratt to make a pair of late saves. The Ashland defense employed a bend-but-don't-break mentality and cleared the ball to midfield whenever possible to hold off the Comets and clinch the 1-0 victory.

Ashland head coach Eric Wolff was happy with his team's composure in an intense battle.

"(Crater) played much harder than they did in the last couple of games," Wolff said. "They were more defensively minded the last couple games. This time they were playing a lot of offense in the second half especially."

The win makes Ashland's road in the playoffs a little easier as the top seed. Wolff is pleased to have the top spot, but knows the ride to the top will be difficult.

"If you get into the playoffs, you're going to get hard games no matter what," he said. "Sooner or later, you're going to see someone who is better than you unless you become state champions. So definitely the first round game I think will be a little bit easier, but by the time you hit the second round, there (are) no easy teams left."

The bracket agrees with Wolff &

the winner of Ashland's first playoff game will likely earn a quarterfinal date with Bend, generally considered the best 5A team in the state.

Greenstein is excited about what is ahead for her team and believes they have hit their stride at the right time for a playoff run.

"It feels really good," Greenstein said. "I think it's a great setup for the playoffs. It's a really good game to transition into playoffs with and I think it's a huge accomplishment for our team."

Wolff doesn't think his team has played its best game yet, and hopes they can find another gear as the competition becomes stiffer.

"I'm just very proud of my players working hard, having a great attitude, having a lot of fun and winning a big game," Wolff said. "So I'm hoping we're ready to step it up a little more for the next game because every game will get harder. Hopefully we can step up from here."

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

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