Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
You hate to look at a game against fifth-ranked Sheldon as a must-win, especially since the Irish had yet to lose in Southwest Conference play, but that's exactly the scenario North Medford faced on Tuesday.
Having failed in four tries to upend one of the top three teams in the SWC, the last thing the Black Tornado needed was another setback in its battle for playoff positioning.
"However you look at it, we needed a victory against a quality team," said North Medford coach Scott Plankenhorn. "We hadn't gotten one this year against too many quality teams."
Until Tuesday night.
Jordan Ellis had 18 points and fellow senior Josh Pecktol added 16 as North Medford unselfishly carved up the Sheldon defense for a 63-50 triumph at North Medford High.
The win was especially important since the Black Tornado was coming off a second loss to cross-town rival South Medford, and the first loss to the Panthers sent North Medford on a three-game losing streak.
The Black Tornado (13-4, 5-4 SWC) was determined to not let that slide happen again.
"I think we left our egos at South Medford and we played as a team a lot more today," said Ellis, who also dished out seven assists to go with three rebounds. "We had a whole bunch of assists, and whenever we play as a team, we play good no matter who we play."
North certainly didn't look much like the team that lost 62-51 to the Panthers Friday. The Black Tornado focused more on attacking the basket and making the extra pass, and that paid off in snapping Sheldon's 11-game winning streak.
"We executed and made a lot of good reads against the defense they were in," said Plankenhorn. "It was definitely a team effort."
Beyond Ellis, Matt Maurer may have had the most to do with the plethora of easy layins the Tornado had against the Irish (15-3, 8-1). The 6-foot-2 junior had six assists to go with 10 rebounds, and spearheaded North's transition game with quick, long kickouts to his teammates.
"We were just getting out and moving, and they kinda got tired toward the end it looked like," said Maurer. "Our guys kept running and that's my favorite thing to do, throw down the court."
Maurer also kept possessions alive by crashing the boards and then pulling the ball out to reset the offense.
"That's my job," he added. "My job is to battle and be physical, Jordan and Josh is to score and everyone else is to feed off them, and that's kinda how the team rolls right now."
North opened a 21-11 lead through one quarter and didn't allow Sheldon to cut much into its deficit over the final 24 minutes.
The Irish trimmed North's lead to 29-23 with 3:10 to go in the first half on a Ben Higgins 3-pointer, but Tanner Borg followed with a 3-pointer on a kickout by Ellis. David Formolo and Tevin Faust also scored off Ellis assists to send the Tornado into the break with a 36-27 lead.
"They did a good job of throwing deep on our press," said Sheldon coach Ron Lampe, whose team still maintains a two-game lead over South Medford and South Eugene. "They did a good job of getting fastbreaks and hitting shots and making plays and we didn't."
Tyler Reynolds led Sheldon with 16 points, but the Irish managed to shoot only 3-for-12 in the third quarter to thwart any hopes of a comeback.
North Medford shot 60 percent from the field (26-for-43), including 23-for-30 from inside 3-point range.
"We played a pretty good game at South (Medford) and just couldn't get it," said Plankenhorn, "but we completed this one and played really solid all the way through."
SHELDON (50) — Reynolds 16, Davis 9, Good 9, Higgins 8, Pinz 8, Stringfield 0, Wellman 0, Johnson 0, Radke 0. Totals: 19-45 4-8 50.
NORTH MEDFORD (63) — Ellis 18, Pecktol 16, Maurer 4, Formolo 6, Levos 6, Shipley 4, Borg 3, Faust 6. Totals: 26-43 8-12 63.
Sheldon 11 16 8 15 — 50
North Medford 21 15 14 13 — 63
3-point goals — Sheldon 8-21 (Good 3, Higgins 2, Pinz 2, Higgins 1), North Medford 3-13 (Ellis 2, Borg 1). Technical fouls — Higgins.
JV score — Sheldon 55, North Medford 49.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail email@example.com