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The number of times Tom Cole has had to call for a timeout inside the first minute of play have been few and far between, but that's exactly what the South Medford head coach found himself doing during Tuesday night's Class 6A state playoff opener at South Medford High.
With visiting Thurston taking a quick 6-0 lead and his No. 1-ranked girls basketball team seemingly going through the motions, Cole brought his troops together to make sure they knew what was happening was simply not acceptable.
"I think as much as anything it's the focus of coming out and realizing that you can't underestimate any opponent now," Cole said of his team's listless start. "I think they came out expecting that things would just happen without them making it happen, and we had to have a timeout to remind them that's not how it works."
Whatever it took, the message was received loud and clear by the Panthers, who answered with a 25-4 surge and closed out the first half on a 48-10 run to erase any doubt en route to a 76-31 thumping of the Colts.
South Medford (26-0) will play host to Tualatin on Friday in the second round of the state playoffs, with the winner advancing to the eight-team state tournament at Portland's Rose Garden. The Timberwolves (15-9) won a nail-biter at Lincoln on Tuesday, 46-45.
Five Panthers scored in double figures against Thurston, led by junior Kylie Towry's 21 points, and 5-foot-11 sophomore Ashley Bolston authored a solid all-around effort with 12 points, 14 rebounds, six steals, four assists, two blocked shots and only one turnover.
Bolston and 5-10 freshman Andee Ritter were especially important on the defensive end, where they disrupted Thurston with their wingspan and ability to converge on the basketball.
"Credit to Ashley and Andee, they just created a lot of steals that gave us a cushion to see things a little differently," added Cole.
With Towry and fellow juniors Luisa Tago and Yaremi Mejia joining in, the Panthers forced Thurston (8-18) into a lot of one-on-one play and quick shots as Colts players scrambled away from the defensive pressure.
"We can't practice against it," Thurston co-head coach Chris Newell said of South's pressure. "Close to their shortest starting player was close to our tallest, and they didn't even start the 6-3 and 6-5 gals (seniors Leilani Morris and Tess Picknell). We can't simulate passing lanes like that right now or the amount of blocking out that needs to be done to nullify that height. Unless we brought the boys team into practice, I don't know how you'd simulate that."
Ritter finished with 12 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists, while Mejia had 10 points and four assists and Picknell added 10 points and seven rebounds. Towry and Tago also each had three steals and six rebounds on a night when South Medford forced Thurston into a 12-for-54 shooting effort (22 percent).
The Panthers weren't on their game from the field either, converting 40 percent of their shots (25-for-63), but definitely helped their cause by draining 23 of 26 foul shots.
"There were some points where we looked flat and we've got to sharpen up before Friday and recognize the easiest way to create some scores," said Cole. "I think in the first quarter we took the more difficult path to it."
Caity Jobanek scored four of Thurston's opening six points and finished with eight to pace the Colts, who got six points, four rebounds and three assists from Kenzie Weston and six points and five rebounds from Abby Tatum.
THURSTON (31) — Jobanek 8, Weston 6, Tatum 6, McFarland 4, Rich 4, Gallup 3, Becker 0, Cogburn 0, T. Chapman 0. Totals: 12-54 5-7 31.
SOUTH MEDFORD (76) — Towry 21, Bolston 12, Ritter 12, Mejia 10, Picknell 10, Vargas 5, Morris 4, Tago 2, Sleezer 0, Sprang 0. Totals: 25-63 23-26 76.
Thurston 10 6 5 10 — 31
South Medford 20 28 16 12 — 76
3-point goals — Thurston 2-20 (Gallup 1, Rich 1), South Medford 3-13 (Ritter 1, Towry 1, Vargas 1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry