North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
The South Medford girls soccer team won the battle.
North Medford won the war.
The Panthers defeated the Black Tornado 1-0 in a compelling battle at Hoffbuhr Field on Saturday. The victory was South's first over North since Oct. 7, 2008.
"Our girls are really proud of where they go to school, they are really proud of the program," South Medford head coach Chris Hollejwin said. "They feel like they are doing a good job, we keep telling them they are doing a good job and they are improving. It's good to get that validation and beat a team like this."
The feel-good moment for the Black Tornado came a little later in the day, when the squad found out that Grants Pass and Roseburg finished in a scoreless tie. Because of that result, North was still able to claim its third straight Southern Oregon Hybrid championship despite ending its regular season on a two-game losing skid.
In the final standings, the Black Tornado (9-4, 6-2 SOH) finished with 18 points, the Indians (6-5-2, 5-1-2) with 17 points and the Panthers (7-4-2, 4-2-2) earned 14 points for third.
All three squads automatically qualified for the OSAA's 32-team bracket and will next compete in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs on Nov. 3.
South sophomore forward Brittney Jensen knocked in the game-winning goal in the ninth minute, and the Panther defense — powered by the impenetrable play of senior goalkeeper Lindsey Namanny — kept the Black Tornado searching for answers that never came.
After a nearly heart-stopping conclusion, Jensen leaped into Namanny's arms in celebration.
"I am so excited," said Jensen, who had another attempt that was just inches away from rolling in. "I am so happy for our seniors because they finally got to beat North."
South's party didn't get started until the dramatic deal was sealed. Desperate for an equalizer, the Black Tornado drove deep into the heart of Panther territory with about 15 seconds to go in the match. A frantic scramble ensued at the South goal mouth. The ball went skyward and two North players charged toward a net that appeared exposed ... that is, until freshman Franny Gomez flew in to head it away and save the day.
"The intensity was so high," Namanny said. "I get freaked out a little bit, so my defense needed to be strong in the last few minutes and they definitely pulled through today."
Namanny's nerves didn't show. She registered a valuable collection of saves, from skilled two-handed stops to jumping blocks and daring dives.
One of South's main focuses entering the match was slowing Amanda Hisey, North's top scorer with 22 goals. Sarah Kapple, Hannah Kapple and Raney Brooks closely marked the junior forward.
"She scored three goals the first time," Hollejwin said of Hisey. "We were well aware of what she could do and thought after the first game that she was their motor. She was the one who created everything. We wanted to neutralized her (and) it worked out."
Jensen's goal came after she accepted a pass from Sarah Kapple and darted up the field. With defender Ashlee McFall closing in on her, Jensen carefully tapped in a far-post goal to give the Panthers their 1-0 edge.
Also lifting South's defensive efforts were sophomores Desiree Lakin and Larissa Lakin and senior Emma Jantzer.
"I think today they wanted it more," North Medford head coach Emily Miller said of South. "They came out winning more balls than we were and we had to kind of pick ourselves up and by then it was too late. We pressured them the whole game. I had down on record we had 18 shots and they had five. But their five were on frame and ours — we've had a problem the last few games putting that ball on frame."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com