Ashland’s volleyball program had quite a run brewing from 2005-09, securing top-four state trophies in all five seasons.
PORTLAND — For a semifinal girls basketball game, tonight's 6:30 matchup between top-ranked South Medford and No. 2 Central Catholic here at the Rose Garden certainly has all the feel of a state championship clash.
The Panthers and Rams have combined for 53 wins and only one loss — Central Catholic fell 48-47 to Westview in the Nike Interstate Shootout — and boast some of the premier players in the state and nation. South Medford is No. 19 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national rankings while Central Catholic is No. 25. The Panthers also stand 22nd in the USA Today Super 25.
Creating even more subplots, each program is also in pursuit of their first-ever state title, with South Medford gunning to be the first big-school champion from southern Oregon and first to go 30-0.
"It should be a good game, there's no doubt," said South Medford head coach Tom Cole. "We're just trying to take another big step."
In today's other semifinal, sixth-ranked Westview (19-7) takes on eighth-ranked West Linn (18-9) at 1:30 p.m. Westview is seeded fifth and West Linn is the No. 9 seed.
The third-seeded Rams (25-1) boast a dynamic junior duo in 6-foot-3 post Kailee Johnson and 5-10 point guard Jordan Reynolds. Johnson is ranked 14th in the ESPNU HoopGurlz Super 60 for the Class of 2013 and Reynolds is 45th on the list topped by Springfield's Mercedes Russell.
"We've got our work cut out with defending those two, and they've got a lot of great kids who are good role players, too," said Cole. "We need to create a better rhythm with what we're trying to do than we did (Wednesday) night but I'm hoping now that they've got one game underneath them that maybe they'll play with a little more confidence now."
Johnson and Reynolds have already lived up to their considerable hype, with Reynolds essentially willing her team to victory during Wednesday's quarterfinals against St. Mary's Academy.
Reynolds was 6-for-15 from the field for 18 points but also added seven steals, five assists, three blocks and four rebounds — picking up the slack wherever needed in a to-the-wire finish against the Blues. Her ability to find teammates in stride with fastbreak passes measuring three-quarters of the court length is as impressive as her ability to get to the basket on her own. She likely could've doubled her assist total had the Rams not shot a poor 34 percent from the field in the 51-48 win over St. Mary's.
Johnson had a less than stellar tournament opener by her own standards but still finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and three blocks before fouling out with 4:39 to play. Johnson was only 2-for-7 from the field and 7-for-14 from the foul line and committed seven turnovers but she never let it effect her effort on the floor. She remained extremely active at the top of the Rams' defensive pressure, hustling throughout her 26 minutes.
If Wednesday's game was any preview, Reynolds likely will line up against South Medford junior Kylie Towry, who leads the second-seeded Panthers (28-0) in scoring at 19.1 points per game and poured in 18 during her team's 62-50 quarterfinal win over Glencoe. Reynolds was switched to whatever hot hand St. Mary's had going and likely will try to prevent the post-up game Towry showed against the Blues.
Conversely, the Panthers likely will lean some of the defensive responsibilities on sophomore Ashley Bolston to slow Reynolds, although it will likely be a full-team effort with rotations by freshman Andee Ritter and juniors Towry and Yaremi Mejia.
Where St. Mary's had success against Johnson was in bringing a backside player into the paint on her drives to the basket. Johnson showed a tendency to lose sight of the other defender and picked up a charging foul on a couple occasions.
Both teams expect to look for transition baskets at every opportunity, making tonight's game all about which team has the stamina and focus to persevere through an electric 32 minutes.
The Panthers entered the tournament with five players averaging double figures in scoring and had four reach that mark against Glencoe. Besides Towry, senior Tess Picknell and Ritter had 11 points and Mejia added 10.
In Thursday morning's consolation play, third-ranked Oregon City staved off elimination with a second-half rally that led to a 64-55 win over Southridge and No. 4 St. Mary's Academy outscored Glencoe by eight in the fourth quarter to win 53-46. Oregon City and St. Mary's will play for fourth place on Saturday, while Southridge and Glencoe were eliminated.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry