PHOENIX — Its once gargantuan lead shrinking by the second, the Ashland High girls basketball team turned to Michaela Dunn to stop the bleeding and the junior sharpshooter delivered. Again.
Dunn drained her fifth 3-pointer of the day with 1 minute, 47 seconds to go as Ashland held off a furious fourth-quarter rally by Cascade Christian on the second day of the Phoenix Invitational Friday.
Dunn's gutsy shot from the top of the key was all net, and Georgia Williams hit two free throws and a fallaway jumper in the final 30 seconds to seal the Grizziles' 49-41 win at Phoenix High School.
"I was really confident," Dunn said.
"That's what I need from her," Ashland head coach Ashley Hafner added. "(Dunn's) a great 3-point shooter who's working on the rest of her game, becoming more well-rounded."
Dunn, who finished with a game-high 18 points to go with seven rebounds, delivered her grand finale just in time to bail out the Grizzlies (2-1) after the Challengers (0-2) used a 14-2 run to cut a 19-point lead to seven with three minutes to go.
Sophomore Tiani Alvarez spearheaded Cascade Christian's rally, scoring nine of her team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter, five at the free-throw line. Alvarez hit two free throws with 2:55 to go to get the Challengers within seven at 42-35, but that's when Ashland turned to Dunn. The lanky junior post didn't hesitate after receiving a pass at the top of the arc, stretching Ashland's lead back to 10.
The Challengers, whose full-court press gave Ashland fits, leading to several steals and two five-second violations, weren't done. A three-point play by Alaina Thomson at the 1:11 mark followed by a driving layup by Alvarez chipped Ashland's lead down to five points with 53 seconds left. Following an Ashland timeout Cascade had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Nicole Morse's open 3 fell short with 30 seconds left and Williams corralled the rebound.
Williams, who delivered her third straight double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds, calmly sank two free throws at the other end to put a dagger in the Challengers' comeback hopes. Later, with Ashland up 47-41 and the clock winding down, Williams unloaded a step-back jumper that rimmed in, prompting Hafner to say, with a smile, "I'm glad you made that because that's not in the game plan."
"(Williams') a great playmaker and teams in the valley know that," Hafner added after the game. "(Thursday against St. Mary's) she had a hard time, she was very well guarded. And as a team we just need to learn to adjust to that, to play through her and not always rely on her."
Williams, who's averaging 17.3 points, said the key for the Grizzlies is to minimize scoring droughts, something they're still figuring out.
"What we really need to do is work on being able to run an offense more consistently than we did in this game," she said. "We did really well and we definitely have been building this entire season so far. We've got lots of new players on the team and it's a completely different feel — new coaches and everything. So we're really just figuring each other out and I think we're going to have a really great season."
Ashland, which wraps up its Phoenix Invitational participation today against Del Norte (Calif.), had no problem putting the ball in the basket in the third quarter, when it outscored the Challengers 17-2 to take a 19-point lead into the fourth. Williams scored seven points in the third after opening the half with a monster block, one of seven on the day. The Grizzlies' defense stepped up as well, holding Cascade Christian to a single basket — Thomson's uncontested layin with five minutes left which snapped Ashland's 10-0 run and cut the lead to 34-19.
Carly Walker, who scored six points, helped Ashland finish the third with a bang by nailing two jumpers in the last two minutes. The second of those fell through with 15 seconds to go, giving Ashland a 40-21 lead heading into the final frame.
Dunn hit three 3-pointers in the first half to help the Grizzlies jump ahead 23-12 with two minutes to go, but the Challengers finished the half with a flurry — they scored six points in the last 30 seconds — and trailed only 23-19 at the break.
Hafner said the Grizzlies must improve their press-breaking execution, which proved to be an issue down the stretch as well.
"We're young, so situational things — what do we do when we're up by five (late)?" she said. "The pressure's on (the opponent) to come at us, and we need to work on being strong with the ball, executing offensively and defensively, and situations. Knowing what to do and when."
CASCADE CHRISTIAN (41) — Morse 5, Alvarez 12, Bales 0, Croy 9, Brown 2, Miller 6, Thomson 7, Britton 0. Totals: 12 16-30 41.
ASHLAND (49) — Williams 16, Tilley 2, Greenberg 2, Teixeira 0, Dunn 18, Sukles 4, Kasiah 0, Walker 0, Read 1. Totals: 18 8-13 49.
Cascade Christian 6 13 2 20 — 41
Ashland 12 11 17 9 — 49
3-point goals — Ashland 5 (Dunn 5), Cascade Christian 1 (Miller 1). Fouled out — Dunn.
At Phoenix, Christian Kammerzell and Aaron Cesaro combined to score 29 points and Cascade Christian outscored Ashland 19-2 in the fourth quarter en route to a 61-40 victory in the semifinals of the Phoenix Invitational.
Kammerzell scored a team-high 15 points and Cesaro added 14 and 10 rebounds for the Challengers (2-0), who will play in the tournament's championship game at 5:30 p.m. today. Cascade's David Sellers added 10 points and 10 boards.
Mitchell Harfst paced Ashland (2-1) with 11 points and three steals. Jackson Byers added six points and five rebounds and Ethan Jones six points, four rebounds and two assists.
"I felt we competed hard," Ashland head coach Jeff Schlecht said, "and (the Challengers) have got a couple big guys that just kind of wore us down in the second half."
CASCADE CHRISTIAN (61) — Laws 4, Kammerzell 15, Coggins 5, Knox 3, Palmer 7, Sellers 10, Cesaro 14, Winters 3. Total: 22 14-26 61.
ASHLAND (40) — Pruitt 2, Layton 5, Harfst 11, Hasskamp 4, Byers 6, Shibley-Styer 2, Stanley 2, Malcomb 2, Jones 6. Totals: 17 2-5 40.
Cascade Christian 13 12 17 19 — 61
Ashland 13 14 11 2 — 40
3-point goals — Cascade Christian 3 (Kamerzell 1, Palmer 1, Coggins 1), Ashland 4 (Layton 1, Harfst 1, Beyers 2).