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No matter what had to happen Friday night at South Medford High, the host Panthers were determined to come out victorious against visiting Tualatin in the second round of the Class 6A girls basketball state playoffs.
Simply put, there was too much on the line to let it all slip away now — and the top-ranked Panther girls played as such on Friday.
Kylie Towry knocked down six 3-pointers to finish with 25 points and lead five South Medford players in double figures and Tess Picknell was at her best in her final home game with nine blocked shots as the Panthers secured a spot in the state tournament with a 98-54 triumph.
"For me personally I really wanted to do well in this game because it's my last home game," said the 6-foot-5 Picknell, who also had 15 points and eight rebounds. "We all knew how much this game mattered and we didn't want Tualatin to get a comeback victory like they did in their first playoff game. We just wanted to put it away and finish being undefeated in this gym still."
The Timberwolves used one of their nine 3-pointers (on 25 attempts) to pull within two points with six minutes to go in the first half, but that only served as their high-water mark as South Medford responded with a 20-5 run to close out the second quarter and take a 44-27 lead into halftime.
The second half was more of the same for the 27-0 Panthers, whose lead hovered around 30 points for most of the time before South closed the game on a 15-3 run.
"We came out with more determination in our eye because this is our last game before the Rose Garden and last chance to play before we see the top eight," said Towry, "and we knew what we wanted to do."
Unlike last year, however, the Panther girls were a little more business-like in celebrating their accomplishment of back-to-back trips to the Class 6A state tournament. South Medford will open as the late game Wednesday with Glencoe as its quarterfinal opponent. The Crimson Tide, which ousted North Medford from the state playoffs on Tuesday, beat Beaverton 72-54 on Friday.
"I think last year we were like, 'We could go to the Rose Garden,' but this year it was like, 'We are going to the Rose Garden,'" said the Stanford-bound Picknell. "We were excited for both but it's just a different mentality. Last year it was a possibility, this year we would've been pretty embarrassed if we hadn't gotten there."
The Panthers didn't necessarily need a full-team effort to get the job done Friday but that's exactly what they received. Junior point guard Yaremi Mejia tallied 16 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals, senior Leilani Morris had 16 points and six rebounds and sophomore Ashley Bolston added 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists to complement Picknell and Towry, who also had four assists.
South Medford blocked 13 shots overall, spearheaded by eight in the first half alone by Picknell, and forced Tualatin (15-10) into 18 turnovers while the Panthers committed only seven.
"We weren't sure whether we wanted to pull up and shoot or get all the way to the hoop and we kinda got caught in between and that was good for her," Tualatin head coach Todd Jukkala said of Picknell's influence. "She's big and she can check those shots, it's not something we have to face regularly in our league. We don't have somebody that's 6-5 and can check shots that way so it's a new experience and to learn on the fly, it's tough to do."
Slowing the Panthers also proved a tough task on Friday, with South Medford capable of finding a solution to whatever defense Tualatin opted to apply.
"They kind of went into a zone and when they did the zone they weren't getting out (to shooters)," said Towry, "and when they went to man it weakened the inside, so it was just back and forth for us taking advantage of whatever we could."
Picknell and the 6-3 Morris were virtually unstoppable down low whenever South chose to feed the post against the undersized Timberwolves, who had no player taller than 5-11.
"He mixed up lineups a lot," Jukkala said of South head coach Tom Cole. "There was a five-guard lineup out there and then the two big kids out there and so it made it difficult for our kids to read what to do."
"The biggest challenge was when they had the two big kids out there because we don't see that," added the coach. "We do see four-guard lineups and five-guard lineups, so that was a little easier for us to deal with than it was with the two big kids."
Tualatin point guard Sydney Mendezona dropped in 15 points and fellow senior Taryn O'Neill had nine points to pace the third-place team from the Pacific Conference.
TUALATIN (54) — Mendezona 15, O'Neill 9, Hall 8, Angeles 8, Miller 3, Searle 3, Lyle 3, Heugly 3, DePaepe 2, Thompson 0, Landmark 0. Totals: 17-57 11-16 54.
SOUTH MEDFORD (98) — Towry 25, Mejia 16, Morris 16, Picknell 15, Bolston 15, Ritter 5, Tago 4, Sleezer 2, Vargas 0, Sprang 0. Totals: 37-73 15-22 98.
Tualatin 17 10 12 15 — 54
South Medford 23 21 25 29 — 98
3-point goals — Tualatin 9-25 (Mendezona 3, Hall 2, Angeles 2, O'Neill 1, Lyle 1), South Medford 9-21 (Towry 6, Bolston 2, Mejia 1). Fouled out — O'Neill.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry