ASHLAND — The Ashland High boys basketball team didn’t need a win to see its 2017-18 season get another game added onto it last week.
Tonight, though, it’s much, much different.
To officially reach the OSAA Class 5A state tournament, the Grizzlies must win one of eight play-in games being played around the state tonight. Ashland, which finished in sixth place in the ultra-competitive Midwestern League, will face the Mid-Willamette Conference’s third-place finisher, Crescent Valley, at 6 p.m. in Corvallis.
To the winner goes a spot in the 5A tourney and an opening-round game on Saturday.
For the loser, it means the end of your season has arrived.
“I’m just so impressed with the boys’ buy-in and effort. They continued to improve and stay engaged even though we had some tough stretches of the season,” Ashland head coach Sam Osofsky said. “To see them stick with it and improve over the year to get this opportunity, it’s just total gratification for the effort put in.”
Close calls against quality opposition proved to be regular a theme for the Grizzlies during their 14-game MWL schedule.
Ashland (7-17 overall) gave league champion Crater a run for its money — on its home court, no less — on Jan. 30. Same goes for games against Churchill and Thurston on Jan. 5 and Feb. 6, respectively, although all three of those games ended in losses for the Grizzlies.
No matter what those results may have been, playing in a league where the top eight seeds in 5A could all be from the MWL just speaks to the competition the Ashland faced more often than not.
“Even though the record isn’t where we want it to be, we feel like our league prepared us,” Osofsky said. “It tells you where you are. It’s humbling, but at the same time it’s motivating. Playing in that league gives you the opportunity to play against some of the top teams, but it also means you have to be better. The league demands that you’re at your best. Improvement is what’s required to be successful in the postseason.”
Unlike some postseason games where there might not be a lot known about the opponent, Ashland is well aware of what Crescent Valley (14-10) will bring to the table tonight.
That’s because the two teams faced one another within the first month of the season, a 71-61 Raiders win, at the Crescent Valley Invitational on Dec. 30.
“I think that teams definitely grow and Ashland and Crescent Valley aren’t the same teams they were at the end of December,” Osofsky said. “We have some comfort with knowing some of the things they do. It’s a recognition of how well we have to play because we’ve seen them play very well before.”
After losing five of its first seven games this year, Crescent Valley finished the regular season strong, winning seven of its final 10 games.
A three-game winning streak to close out the regular season allowed the Raiders to make a leap up into the third-place spot in the MWC.
“First off, they execute their stuff really well,” Osofsky said. “They have really, really great stretches of defense where they make you work for everything you play for. They are always prepared and always well-scouted. We know they present a big challenge.”
In those games where the Grizzlies were hanging with some of the MWL’s best teams, it was their defense that truly served as the backbone to those strong performances.
If Ashland wants to see its season go beyond tonight, Osofsky knows that his team’s success against Crescent Valley will have to begin on the defensive side of the floor.
“We need to stay consistent on defense,” Osofsky said. “When we have been focused on defense and really working well defensively, we’ve come really close to winning some games against some high-ranked teams.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.