Winning the Southern Cascade League title seemed like a pretty bold goal this spring considering the recent history of the Cascade Christian...
The Abby's Holiday Classic is the state's longest running boys basketball tournament for this time of the season.
Now it's faced with its shortest field in the event's 23 years.
Usually an eight-team affair, and because of defections, only five schools will be on hand for the full tournament Thursday through Saturday at South and North Medford high schools. Three other teams will be brought in for one game each so each of the regular squads gets a full complement of three games.
"That was the big thing," said South Medford coach Dennis Murphy, who is also the school athletic director and helped found the tournament. "We wanted to get everybody with three games and we were hoping to find three good, quality teams for everyone. I think we did, even though the format's not great."
Defending champion North Medford (5-1) and South Medford (4-3) will be joined by North Salem (1-7), Redmond (5-2) and South Eugene (4-3). Crater (5-3), South Umpqua (7-4) and Del Norte, Calif., (3-5) will fill in the gaps in the schedule.
There will be three games each day, and all except one will be played at South Medford. The exception will be when North Medford hosts Redmond at 7 p.m. Thursday.
In other games Thursday, South Eugene plays Crater at 6 p.m. and North Salem faces South Medford at 7:45 p.m.
On Friday, it's South Umpqua against North Salem at 4:15 p.m., North Medford against South Eugene at 6 and Redmond against South Medford at 7:45.
Saturday's schedule will be determined by outcomes the first two days.
The teams with the two best records will play for the championship. And if it's the two Medford teams — who will meet three times in Southern Oregon Hybrid play — so be it, said Murphy.
"Neither one of us (would be) excited about playing each other a fourth time," he said, "but you want to keep the integrity of the tournament and try to have a championship."
The field was full last spring, he said, but Grants Pass and Eagle Point opted out. Since then, several teams, including three in California, considered coming on board before deciding against it.
The proliferation of holiday tournaments throughout the state has made it difficult to find participants, said Murphy.
"There are only so many 6A and 5A schools," he said.
The short field doesn't sound a death knell for the tournament, he added.
"We don't think so," he said. "We sure hope not. Abby's has been phenomenal with their support. They would like to see it continue. I'll just work harder to get people more committed and committed sooner and we'll get it back to eight teams."
In 2011, North Medford claimed its third tournament title in five years with a 62-49 victory over Sprague of Salem. The Black Tornado has been the champion six times.
In 2010, South Medford, an eight-time tournament winner, prevailed over North Medford for the crown, 63-56.
It was the first time since 2003 the two host schools battled for the championship.
Only three times has there been a title game void of one of the Medford teams.
North Medford got off on the right foot last year, winning two games in a Portland-area tournament before sweeping its three games in the Abby's. The Black Tornado went on to place third in the state.
"It's important for us to get three games in a row and have that tournament atmosphere," said North Medford coach Scott Plankenhorn, whose team has a similar schedule this year, having gone 2-1 in a pre-Christmas tournament in Lake Oswego. "It really gives you a chance to find out about yourself when you play three games in three days. You see how tough you are."
The Black Tornado began the year playing about "18 to 20" solid minutes per game, he said. They are figures he hopes improve.
"We have to learn to play closer to 32 minutes," said Plankenhorn, whose team is coming off its most complete performance Sunday in a 64-57 victory over Lakeridge.
North Medford has gotten production from a number of sources. Sophomore guard Tristen Holmes averages more than 13 points per game to lead the team in scoring, and senior Oshea Bailey has served adeptly as the floor leader. Junior guard Julian Gray has filled up the stat sheet, said Plankenhorn, and Brandon DeBerry, a 6-foot-7 senior post, has been a force inside.
"We've got everyone leading us," said Plankenhorn.
South Medford is in a similar position, getting contributions from a variety of corners but not all at the same time.
The Panthers placed fourth in a Red Bluff, Calif., tournament, winning two games after an opening defeat.
They're coming off a loss to hot-shooting Sprague Friday.
"We've got the ability to shoot it," said Murphy, "we just have struggled to do it consistently."
Senior post Jesse Mondry, junior guard Bryson Carpenter and junior wing Mark Winans each had their moments in Red Bluff, and senior point guard Adrian Garcia has done a nice job leading the offense.
"People are kind of settling into what their roles are and how they can help us," said Murphy. "It's a situation where we have a number of guys who can all be pretty good, and if we get them to be pretty good on the same night, then we can be very good.
"There's not anyone we've really put a saddle on and are riding. It's more of a team effort."
Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for students. Tournament passes are available at each site at $15 for adults and $7 for students.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com