EAGLE POINT &

Ashland's "bring on Crater" moment Tuesday night occurred late in the fourth quarter. Mason Costantino, utilizing about 34 screens, burst out of an opening and lined up an open 3-pointer in the corner. The shot fell, the Ashland bench erupted and the game, long since decided, now absorbed an emotional finality as well.

Minutes later the Ashland High boys basketball team could finally turn its attention fully to the Comets, having dispatched of Eagle Point 66-46. It's a game the Grizzlies have been looking forward to since the Comets evened the season series Jan. 29, and it will likely determine the Southern Sky Conference champion.

"I think everyone's starting to get adrenaline right now and people are talking about it at school," said Charlie Sebrell, who had 10 points and six assists against Eagle Point. "It's going to be a packed house. I think we're going to use the energy and play a good game."

Ashland senior Dillon Thigpen went a step further.

"It was pretty hard to stay focused because all week we're talking about the Crater game," he said. "For the seniors, it's like the biggest game of our lives."

The win over Eagle Point assured Ashland that a "good game" Friday will likely put it over the top in the race for a league title. The Grizzlies improved to 13-8 overall and 8-1 in the SSC, a half-game ahead of Crater (14-6, 7-1), which ripped Klamath Union on Tuesday, 81-57. If Ashland beats Crater Friday night at Mountain Avenue Gym, the Grizzlies will seize a — 1/2-game lead in the standings plus own the head-to-head tie-breaker with two games left on their regular season schedule.

"Our seniors, we've been talking about it off and on for the last week and a half," Ashland head coach Larry Kellems said. "Our preparation really has been for Friday night for Crater. We know that's the game, and it's going to come down to the two of us &

whoever wins that game will win conference, I'm pretty sure."

— — Jesse Javna powers his way to the basket during the second half in Eaglepoint.

The Grizzlies didn't looked distracted by that scenario against the scrappy Eagles, who came out inspired and hot before collapsing somewhat spectacularly under the weight of Ashland's pressure defense. The Eagles trailed by one entering the second quarter and scored five straight there to take a 16-12 lead. The next 14 minutes belonged to Ashland.

The Grizzlies, utilizing a suffocating press in the full-court and a swarming zone in the half-court, quickly turned traps into steals and steals into layups. In a flash Ashland was up 23-17. Consecutive 3-pointers by Sebrell got it there, and Ashland extended that lead to 27-17, 31-19 and finally 32-20 at the half on a Thigpen free throw.

The Grizzlies' momentum continued to build in the third, with Thigpen and Matt Lipski providing most of the offensive punch and Ethan Moskowitz, Jesse Javna, Austin Raymond and Garrett Tygerson applying good defensive pressure. Thigpen and Lipski combined to score 13 of Ashland's 17 third-quarter points. That gave the Grizzlies a 49-30 lead heading into the fourth.

Lipski finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, Thigpen had 13 points and Javna had four points and four of Ashland's 15 steals.

The Grizzlies, prone to occasional shooting slumps, had no such trouble in this one. They shot a toasty 56 percent (23-for-41), including 44 (7-for-16) percent from 3-point range.

"We came out with a lot more energy in the third quarter after our halftime talk," Thigpen said. "We started pressing them a lot more, trapping, and just came out with more energy and starting finishing."

Eagle Point played even with Ashland in the fourth, but by then the Grizzlies were far enough ahead to delve deep into their bench. Six Grizzlies scored baskets in the final quarter, including sophomore Costantino and Adam Pavlich, who both sank 3s. Jayson Wilson also hit from long range and finished with five points.

"It wasn't the prettiest, most finesse game of our season, but the guys take care of it and we appreciate that about these guys; they stay focused," Kellems said. "We just hope that Friday night that we can come out and hit or shots. We weren't able to over in their gym. If we can hit our shots and do our thing Friday night, it's going to be a great game. I think it's going to be a battle all the way to the end."

ASHLAND (66) &

Lipski 15, Thigpen 13, Sebrell 10, Wilson 5, Costantino 3, Tygerson 4, Javna 4, Clement 3, Paulich 3, Moskowitz 2, Amrhein 2, Raymond 2. Totals: 23 13-18 66.

EAGLE POINT (46) &

Rowley 14, Brasel 9, Erickson 8, Marlia 7, Taylor 4, Tuttle 2, Gonzalez 0. Totals: 15 11-14 46.

Ashland 12 20 17 17 —66

Eagle Point 11 9 10 16 —46

3-point goals &

Ashland 7 (Thigpen 2, Sebrell 2, Paulich 1, Costantino 1, Wilson 1), Eagle Point 5 (Marlia 2, Brasel 1, Rowley 1). Fouled out &

Taylor.

JV result &

Ashland won.