On to the finals

The Ashland Grizzlies had been here before, with other players, against other teams. There was the 1999 semifinal loss to Jesuit, and the 2004 replay that was closer, but still heartbreaking.

So when the Grizzlies gathered on the sideline, flirting with history but facing their first halftime deficit in nearly two months, a little panic would only be natural — for most teams.

"It was intense," senior goalkeeper Wes Overland said. "We knew we had stuff to work on to win the game, but (head coach Brad Roupp) was mainly just saying that we had to have fun, be confident and believe in our teammates. That's what we did and that's what won us the game."

The third-ranked Grizzlies overcame a sloppy start, a wet field and fifth-ranked Sherwood to score three goals in the second half and pull out a 3-1 victory Tuesday in the OSAA Class 5A state semifinals at Ashland Middle School.

The first half looked like a flashback to the Bowmen's shocking playoff upset of then No. 1 Ashland in 2006, with a steady rain and soggy field negating Ashland's usual ball control advantage. Sherwood took control just seven minutes in when senior striker Kyle Smurdon scored off a deflection in the box. But the Grizzlies avoided disaster this time thanks in part to two fortunate bounces — balls that were initially snared by Sherwood keeper Conner Hendryx skittered away in the wet grass and turned into Ashland goals.

Junior forward Reed Chasmar scored the first two goals for Ashland in the 57th and 60th minutes, respectively, and junior halfback Kevin Cassidy added an insurance goal in the 79th, as the Grizzlies secured their first-ever state championship berth after two previous semifinal losses.

"Even though we were down a goal, we're really calm team so we decided to play possession and wait for a good shot instead of keep ripping deep shots," Chasmar said. "We just had to wait for a good opportunity."

"We talked about playing without panic, we talked about playing passes to feet," Roupp said. "We knew that they would pack it in on defense a little bit more, so we would have to play around them, play out to the width of the field and then play in rather than go directional to goal. The boys decided long ago that they wanted to win this thing, and so I think at halftime they gathered back together and as a group focused so they would play together."

Ashland (15-1-1) will play fourth-ranked Churchill (16-2) in the finals Saturday at Liberty High School in Hillsboro. The Midwestern League champion Lancers beat second-ranked Bend 2-0 in the other semifinal.

All three Ashland goals were unconventional and came from unlikely sources: Chasmar, who entered the match with three goals on the season, scored the Grizzlies' first goal off a long assist by Overland — yes, the keeper — and Cassidy's score was his first of 2008.

Cassidy's goal was a stunner in more ways than one. Hendryx made a diving save to rob Nate Roupp on a penalty kick after Adam Pavlich was fouled in the box, but Cassidy charged in for the follow, booting the ball past Hendryx and into the net.

"(Roupp) usually fakes out the keeper and just drains it, even if the keeper guesses the right way," Cassidy said. "He kind of fell down onto a knee and pushed the ball out, so he was still on the ground and as he was getting up I shot it. It felt great — first goal in the semifinal match."

Coach Roupp said Cassidy was due.

"We sent him and said, 'Kevin, go secure this game,'" Roupp said. "He's a passionate player and he's just determined. And his determination through all these practices and all the games not getting to play very much, he just crowned it."

After a hard fought, even first half the Grizzlies dominated the second, outshooting the Bowmen (13-4-1) 14-3, including 8-0 on goal. Ashland also generated five corner kicks and held Sherwood to one.

The Bowmen still managed to keep the lead for the first 16 minutes of the second half.

That ended in a flash.

After a defensive stop, Overland drop-kicked the ball behind the Sherwood defense and over a streaking Chasmar, who arrived on the left side of the box at the same time Hendryx did. But Hendryx couldn't secure the ball from Chasmar, who dribbled past the keeper and toward an empty net for a wild equalizer.

"The goalie just bobbled it," Chasmar said. "It went through his legs and I just needed to take it to the goal."

"On this wet grass and on this bumpy old field, that was a play that was just bound to happen," coach Roupp added.

Three minutes later Ashland struck again, this time off a through ball from Nate Roupp that found Chasmar 10 yards in front of the goal. His shot glanced off Hendryx and into the back of the net to put the Grizzlies ahead for good.

Down for the first time, Sherwood struggled to mount an offense the rest of the way against a Grizz defense that has allowed just two goals in its last 11 games and 11 overall.

"There was some bad bounces here and there, and we were on our heels a lot trying to keep the lead," Sherwood assistant coach Kevin Legg said. "I think the kids still battled, there's just a couple breaks here and there — with the keeper, with the wet (field)."

That wasn't the case in the first half.

Ashland did manage nine shots, but none required a save from Sherwood senior keeper Brennan Hickok, who was switched out at halftime before re-entering late.

The Bowmen would have took a 2-0 lead into the break if not for a leaping save by Overland in the 30th minute.

Ashland regrouped at halftime, and slightly altered its lineup — going with three forwards instead of two.

The strategy worked wonders.

"They weren't guarding the flanks up front and it allowed (Chasmar) some space to work," coach Roupp said, "and out of that space it allowed Reed to go to work. We were getting beat in the back "¦ so we took someone away from the middle, and through that our team started focusing on getting the ball up to the forwards. So it created more of an attacking mentality and we stared attacking them rather than letting them attack us."

The game marked another chapter in what is fast becoming one of Oregon's most exciting 5A soccer rivalries — Sherwood and Ashland have met in the playoffs three years in a row, and the first two games both required overtime. Sherwood won the 2006 game 2-1, and Ashland has now won the last two, including a 2-1 victory last year.

The championship game will feature two of the state's premier title-less soccer programs. In fact, it will also be the first championship game appearance for both teams.

"It's exciting, very exciting," Chasmar said. "It's going to take a lot of preparing, but I know we can do it. When we play our game, we're tough to beat. I have a good feeling about it."

"I don't know anything about Churchill," coach Roupp added. "We scouted them today. (Assistant coach) Leo (Balbuena) is returning with the tape. We'll watch it. He said they were very good — very good. So, we're going to practice hard "¦ we'll get focused."

Saturday's game will be the last for Ashland's nine seniors. At least one Grizzly fan believes their legacy will go down in Ashland lore.

"A parent called me today and said, 'I have no worries, it's just destiny,'" Roupp said. "I'm starting to believe."

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

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