EUGENE — The Ashland High girls basketball team came close to claiming its first Midwestern League victory in 22 months, but the Grizzlies’ early deficit proved to be just a little too much to overcome.
Trailing by double digits at halftime, Ashland was able to pull within four points with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation, but that’s as close as the Grizzlies got in a 57-50 to Willamette in the MWL opener for both teams on Friday night.
“We didn’t play well at all in the first half. We got a lot of shots up but none of them were going in,” Ashland head coach Antione Perry said. “The girls continued to play hard, continued to battle and we got back into the game. We were able to get within four, but (Willamette was) able to hit their free throws to stay in front.”
Of the 30 points Willamette (2-3 overall, 1-0 MWL) recorded in the first half as it built a 30-19 lead, 20 of them were scored by 6-foot junior post Natalie Willoughby.
Willoughby finished with a game-high 28 points and senior guard Jordan Morris had 17 as they combined to score all but 10 of the Wolverines’ points in the game.
“She was doing a lot of damage around the basket and we weren’t in the right position and giving her a lot of easy looks,” Perry said of Willoughby. “Even for the future, we have to keep correcting that.”
Ashland (3-3, 0-1) was once again led offensively by the 1-2 punch of junior guard Nina Munson and sophomore wing Jayd Sollinger.
Munson finished with a team-high 17 points, while Sollinger added 13. Junior wing Malia Rodriguez had eight points.
Ashland returns to the court on Tuesday night when it hosts Eagle Point (3-2, 0-1) at 6 p.m. at Mountain Avenue Gymnasium, the first of four straight home league games for the Grizzlies.
ASHLAND (50): Sollinger 13, Barnes 0, Baldwin 2, Larson 2, Munson 17, Summers 0, Witnauer 2, Rodriguez 8, Abel 6. Totals: 19 11-28 50.
WILLAMETTE (57): Morris 17, Schear 0, Murphy 0, Gayle 0, Young 5, Crawford 3, Bitikofer 4, White 0, Willoughby 28. Totals: 19 18-37 57.
3-point goals — Ashland 1 (Sollinger 1), Willamette (Morris 1); Fouled out — Munson, Witnauer, Abel, White, Crawford.
WILLAMETTE 69, ASHLAND 43: At Eugene, Ashland scored the game’s first 10 points, but saw Willamette close the first half on a monster 40-15 run as the Wolverines rolled to a win in the league opener for both teams.
“We executed our stuff really well early and I thought we had some focus issues in the second quarter,” Ashland head coach Sam Osofsky said. “That team can fill it up and we let them get comfortable.”
Senior wing Jondre Smith was one of three Wolverines to finish in double figures and scored 16 of his game-high 21 points in the first half for Willamette (4-1, 1-0), which was playing its first game in the MWL since moving down from Class 6A. Sophomore guard Tyler Woods added 14 points, while senior wing Owen Cross had 12 points and hit three of the Wolverines’ six 3-pointers in the game.
Ashland (3-3, 0-1), which saw its two-game winning streak snapped, got a team-high 16 points from senior guard KJ Pippa. Junior guard Gabe Ekwall, who finished with 11 points, was the only other Grizzly to hit double figures.
Ashland hosts Eagle Point (2-6, 0-1) — which lost 38-36 in its MWL opener to Springfield — on Tuesday night.
ASHLAND (43): Pippa 16, Wallner-Sentle 4, Ekwall 11, Hanks 0, Sanford 1, Saulsbury 5, Swenson 2, Carter 0, Desmond 0, Barnes 2, Harris 2. Totals: 15 5-14 43.
WILLAMETTE (69): Culver 6, Woods 14, Yanez 0, Brown 0, Thompson 0, Cross 12, Puckett 2, Burke 0, Moffatt 0, Smith 21, Curtis 14. Totals: 24 12-19 69.
3-point goals — Ashland 4 (Wallner-Sentle 1, Ekwall 2, Saulsbury 1), Willamette 6 (Woods 2, Cross 3, Smith 1.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.