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With four returning senior starters, the experience of Sheldon's boys basketball team shined through Tuesday night as the visiting Irish used a fourth-quarter rally to deny South Medford.
The second-ranked Panthers held a six-point advantage entering the fourth quarter, but No. 9 Sheldon quickly wiped that away with a 7-0 run out of the break and efficiently closed out the contest for a key 61-55 Southwest Conference triumph.
Sheldon (12-2) had five players reach double figures and scored on 10 of its 13 fourth-quarter possessions to remain undefeated in SWC play at 5-0.
In contrast, the Panthers scored on six of their 12 possessions in the fourth quarter and were outscored 24-12 in the period.
"They had 13 possessions in the fourth quarter, and they score on 10 of them?" said South Medford coach Dennis Murphy. "How are you going to beat anybody if you don't defend anybody?"
E.J. Singler had 19 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks to pace the Panthers (10-4, 3-2 SWC), while sophomore Josh Havird added 17 points, three steals and three rebounds.
The rest of the Panthers managed only 19 points, and that inability to step up proved crucial as the Irish clamped down more and more on Singler as the night wore on with a tight box-and-one defense.
"We are so limited," Murphy said. "We've got to figure that out. E.J. just can't do it all, and we just don't have other guys who can make plays right now."
Further hampering the cause for South Medford was the absence of Mitch Singler for most of the game, leaving the Panthers to counter Sheldon with a sophomore-dominant lineup. The 6-foot-3 senior aggravated an ankle injury sustained during the football season and did not play beyond the first quarter. His status for Friday's game at South Eugene is questionable.
The Panthers were able to take advantage of Sheldon's shooting woes in the first half, as the Irish drained only 1 of 11 3-point attempts and 10 of 29 shots overall. The second half was another story, however, as Sheldon dropped in 7 of 9 from 3-point range and 12 of 20 overall.
Senior Tyler Reynolds was particularly effective in the final 16 minutes, scoring 11 of his 13 points to complement six rebounds. It was Reynolds' pull-up jumper with 6:25 to play that gave Sheldon its first lead since 1:35 to go in the first quarter.
After the game was tied at 49-all, Reynolds drilled a 3-pointer with 2:15 to go and rebounded a 3-point miss by Havird to give the Irish all the cushion it would need down the stretch.
"That's just the way this team's been this year," said Sheldon coach Ron Lampe. "Certain guys are just stepping up at different times during the games. You really don't know who it's going to be. Sometimes Tyler just mixes in, and you really don't notice him, and then all of a sudden he does what he did today."
Billy Pinz added 14 points, and the Irish got 10 points apiece from fellow seniors Ben Higgins, Wyatt Davis and Tyler Good, who came off the bench for his tally. Higgins also added seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.
"We kept our composure, and I thought that was the key," said Lampe. "There were times during this game we could've lost our composure, and we didn't. The first half we just couldn't put the ball in the hole, and we were only down by two at halftime. That was a positive thing as far as I was concerned."
Lampe's team also won at South Medford last year, and the Irish were obviously overjoyed with their comeback Tuesday given the nature of this year's tight SWC race.
"It was huge, (beating) North Medford was huge, they're all huge," said Lampe. "It's a good conference, and we've just got to come ready to play every night."
Mike Brassel came off the bench to add five points, three assists and two steals for the Panthers, while fellow sophomore Tevyn Mercer had six points, and junior Travis Pratt scored four points in a key three-minute stretch in the fourth to help South keep pace with Sheldon.
SHELDON (61) — Pinz 14, Reynolds 13, Higgins 10, Davis 10, Good 10, Wellman 2, Stringfield 2, Johnson 0. Totals: 22-49 9-10 61.
SOUTH MEDFORD (55) — E.J. Singler 19, Havird 17, Mercer 6, Brassel 5, Pratt 4, M. Singler 2, Petersen 2, McLaughlin 0. Totals: 22-48 7-7 55.
Sheldon 11 13 13 24 — 61
South Medford 16 10 17 12 — 55
3-point goals — Sheldon 8-20 (Reynolds 3, Good 2, Pinz 2, Higgins 1), South Medford 4-9 (Havird 3, Brassel 1).
JV score — South Medford 46, Sheldon 38.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org