HILLSBORO &

The Ashland High volleyball team wanted the upset, believed it was possible, and for a while must have even felt it happening. But top-ranked Crook County rose to the challenge like the defending champions that they are and, for now, the Grizzlies will have to live with another, less fulfilling accomplishment: becoming the only 5A team in the state to take a game off the Cowgirls.

Yes, third-ranked Ashland kept its word Friday night and pushed Crook County, but the Cowgirls pushed right back, again and again and again on their way to a 20-25, 25-11, 25-9, 25-10 win in the semifinals of the OSAA Class 5A state tournament.

With the comeback, Crook County (38-2) advances to Saturday night's state championship match against Summit, while the Grizzlies (22-11) drop into the third-place match against West Albany.

The Cowgirls used a 14-2 run to turn a 7-7 tie into a 21-9 blowout in Game 4. They finished off Ashland on a kill by Casey Loper, who tallied a match-high 15 kills. Krissi Kemper added 13 kills and Jessi Lea 10 for the Cowgirls. Ashland's statistics were unavailable at press time.

The Game 4 rally was just a small part of the big one, which started in Game 2 and lasted the rest of the match. The Cowgirls outscored Ashland 75-30 after that initial shock.

It started in Game 2. There, Crook County quickly reestablished its place as one of the hardest-hitting teams in the state. The Cowgirls pounded the ball, notching kill after kill on their way to an 11-3 lead which kept growing. Along the way, they yanked back the momentum Ashland built.

Ashland couldn't have scripted a better start. The Grizzlies got three kills out of Samantha Gilbert and a few gift unforced errors out of the Cowgirls to take a 7-2 lead. Crook County scored five straight to tie the match at 7-all, but the Grizzlies' kept coming.

A miss-hit by the Cowgirls put Ashland ahead to stay, 11-10. The rest of Game — played out like a Grizzly highlight reel, with diving saves, aces, bombastic spikes and, more than anything, fantastic effort.

Ashland started the day with a win over Thurston in the quarterfinals. Gilbert had 15 digs and 13 kills and Heidi Siebenlist added 25 assists as the Grizzlies trounced the Colts 27-25, 25-18, 25-11.

The Grizzlies promised they would raise their game after Saturday's somewhat lackluster win over Bend and delivered big time against sixth-ranked Thurston. Ashland used big runs to take control in each game, utilizing a major advantage at the net to take leads of 19-10 in Game 1, 18-11 in Game 2 and 24-8 in Game 3.

Thurston did rally back from 24-15 down to tie the opening game, but the Grizzlies survived. Gilbert spiked a winner to make it 26-25 and Niki Small's ace sealed it.