Emily Hesse may not know a whole lot about Marist — Ashland's Class 5A play-in opponent tonight — but she knows plenty about her own Grizzlies, who have struggled through an up and down season but have shown signs of promise.
"This is our first play-in game and it's different and exciting and new," Hesse said. "I think we'll play well against (Marist)."
Tip-off for the do-or-die girls basketball game is set for 7 p.m. at Marist High School, where both teams will try to snap losing streaks — five games for Marist and four for Ashland — and earn a spot in the round of 16, slated for Saturday. Based on seeding alone, the game is the most competitive of the eight play-in matchups. Marist is seeded 16th and Ashland 17th.
When/Where: 7 p.m. tonight at Marist High School.
At Stake: Winner advances to 16-team playoff tournament.
Ashland is coming off a rough 69-44 loss to Eagle Point that gave the Eagles the Southern Oregon Hybrid 5A title. The Grizzlies (7-15) haven't won a game since their 44-40 upset of Eagle Point on Jan. 29, but most of their losses since league play began in early January have come against 6A competition.
"I feel good," Hesse said. "We've had some real confidence-uplifting practices where everyone's on the same page, working together but also being hard on each other as teammates. That's not just coming from (the coaches)."
Hesse said the key for Ashland will be to maintain its composure and avoid rushing shots.
"Being patient, working the ball, moving the ball around," she said. "Playing our game and being successful in that manner. They just have to realize that they can play and do what we know how to do and we can be successful."
The Grizzlies are led by sophomore guard Georgia Williams. Sophomore post Frankie Brookins, Ashland's tallest player at 6-feet, will also play a key role against Marist, which boasts three players 6-0 or taller.
"They have some big girls," Hesse said, "so (Brookins) definitely has to be a presence in there and not let those girls do what they want on the offensive side."
Marist (10-14) struggled down the stretch, losing to South Eugene, Sheldon, Thurston, Springfield and Willamette to finish third in the Midwestern Conference. The Spartans do have a win over Crater, which beat Ashland by 17 points, but they've gone 2-7 since beating Marshfield on Jan. 24.
The play-in round is for the teams that finished nine through 24 in the final OSAA 5A rankings. The eight winners will join the top eight seeds in a 16-team playoff. The final eight head to Eugene for the double-elimination state tournament.