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The stage was set for a North Medford victory, but South Medford's Mike Brassel brought the house down in true showstopper style Tuesday night in a tense Southwest Conference boys basketball game.
With his team trailing 54-52 after a free throw by Michael Bradshaw with 1.3 seconds remaining, Brassel gathered a quick inbounds pass, dribbled once and shot himself into Panther lore with an all-net, three-quarter court winner at the buzzer.
"I have never been stunned on a shot like that in 38 years. I never have," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. "I watched it snap the net and I just said, 'I cannot believe it ... we just won the basketball game.'"
The dramatic finish set up a wild on-court explosion by South Medford fans, who only moments before were preparing for a rare second straight loss to North Medford on the Panthers' home court.
"When I let it go, it felt good but it didn't feel good to the point where it's like, 'I'm going to hit a 75-footer for a game-winner,'" said Brassel, who finished with a game-high 22 points.
The 5-foot-8 junior had actually sent up a pair of air-ball 3-pointers on South's prior possession as the Panthers looked to erase a 53-50 deficit. Teammate Tevyn Mercer rebounded the second — his 18th board — and scored with 2.3 seconds to play.
After a South timeout, Bradshaw was fouled on the inbounds play and missed on his first shot. While neither team had much success at the foul line — the teams combined to go 9-for-20 in the fourth quarter alone — Brassel said Bradshaw's pure second shot may have actually helped open the door for the winning shot.
"I knew that if he would've missed that free throw, we probably would not have gotten a shot off," said Brassel. "There was no time left to rebound, catch and then fire. But when I saw him make that and I saw the whole team was back, I was like, "Ooh, I might get a good heave at this ball.'"
That open door was what left North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn distraught following the game.
"It hurts that it's my fault," said Plankenhorn, overcome by the emotion of what had transpired. "I didn't call a timeout there to make sure everybody knew what they were doing. They shouldn't have even gotten a shot off there at the end. We bust our ass to win the game, and I make the mistake ... it's tough. I had timeouts, I should've used it."
Still, it took a feat few had ever witnessed to deny the Black Tornado on this evening.
Murphy said the real key was his team's ability to continue to work hard despite being faced with such long odds. South trailed by as much as six points in the final quarter and 51-47 with just over a minute to play.
"The harder you play the luckier you get, and we surely continued to play hard," said Murphy. "If we hadn't played hard, we wouldn't have hung around to have that chance."
While the win helped pull the Panthers even with their cross-town rival in two matchups this season, it was even more important given the tight SWC race. Both teams entered the game with 1-1 SWC records, so any advantage a team can get is pivotal.
"That's huge for us," said Brassel, who had four 3-pointers overall. "Now we're 2-1 with Grants Pass coming to town Friday, and if we can get that, we're up there in second place after everyone picked us fifth to start the season."
On the flip side, the shell-shocked Tornado (7-6, 1-2 SWC) was left to simply try to put this game out of memory as soon as possible.
"It's only one conference game," said North senior Kyle Waits, who had 16 points and eight rebounds. "When it boils down, we still have 12 games to come back and show the rest of the league who we are. If we play our butts off like that and lose to a 70-foot shot at the buzzer ... that's going to happen to you once in a million times. The shot Mike made was ESPN shot-worthy."
It's also one he practices for fun before the Panthers gather during the week for practice. In the blink of an eye after Bradshaw's free throw, that fact wasn't lost on Murphy.
"Did I know it was going in while it was in the air, no," said the veteran coach, adding that his angle on the shot wasn't the best. "But what I did say to myself is that he practices those."
It might not have come down to such dramatics if either team could've converted more from the charity stripe. North Medford was 12-for-24 from the line, while South was only slightly better at 14-for-26. The Panthers missed the front end of five one-and-one efforts, and three times the Tornado stepped to the line for two shots and came away with nothing to show for it.
"If we make free throws that doesn't happen," Plankenhorn said of Brassel's heroics, "but at the same time you can't take off what does happen."
Josh Havird added 12 points for the Panthers (7-6, 2-1 SWC), while Brett Wallan, Austin Voss, Matt Retzlaff and Newt Fasel had key contributions off the bench in a game in which nine players scored for South.
North Medford also had solid play throughout the lineup, with Bradshaw finishing with eight points and Matt Maurer adding five points and seven rebounds. The Tornado also had a key stretch in the fourth quarter when sophomores Chris Faust, Derek Mautz and J.J. Browne-Moore teamed with junior Jared Knox and senior Bradshaw to reclaim the lead from the Panthers.
But in the end, it was Brassel who stepped up when his team needed him the most.
"Mike's always been a tremendous competitor and what he's learning is how to control those emotions to compete," said Murphy, "and when he does he's very good and it makes us a lot better. We have lots to be proud of with him for where he is and what he's doing."
NORTH MEDFORD (54) — Maurer 5, Phillips 2, Waits 16, Levos 4, Knox 4, Bradshaw 8, Faust 5, Browne-Moore 3, Osmanski 2, Mautz 5. Totals: 20-42 12-24 54.
SOUTH MEDFORD (55) — Havird 12, Brassel 22, Mercer 4, Pratt 2, Seutter 4, Retzlaff 2, Wallan 2, Fasel 3, Voss 4, Pearson 0, Shanklin-Rice 0. Totals: 18-56 14-26 55.
North Medford 13 12 11 18 — 54
South Medford 13 12 13 17 — 55
3-point goals — North Medford 2-8 (Bradshaw 1, Mautz 1), South Medford 5-13 (Brassel 4, Havird 1). Fouled out — Pratt, Levos. Technical fouls — South Medford coach Murphy.
JV score — South Medford 60, North Medford 55.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org