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WASHINGTON D.C. — A day after knocking off one of the best teams in the nation, the South Medford Panthers experienced another kind of shock Friday.
Marques Webb hit a free throw with three seconds to go as Hoover, Ala., capitalized on two favorable calls in the closing seconds to upend South Medford, 53-52, in the semifinals of the National Title IX Holiday Invitational Classic.
The loss knocked the Panthers, the top-ranked Class 6A team in Oregon, out of Classic title contention. They'll face Cicero, New York, today at 2 p.m. PST for third place.
Webb's free throw came only moments after South's Julissa Tago appeared to give the Panthers (5-2) a two-point lead on a backdoor layup, but the points were waved off and Tago was called for traveling as a Hoover player prepared to inbound the ball. Then, things went from bad to worse for the Panthers when Ashley Bolston was called for a foul away from the ball on the inbounds play.
After hitting her first free throw, Webb missed the second. South snared the rebound but could not get off a shot before the buzzer sounded.
"I don't blame the officials for the loss, but that game came down to two consecutive calls that really hurt us," South Medford head coach Tom Cole said. "It is what it is, but the thing for me is that I was proud that, despite falling behind and not having calls go our way, we really were in a position to win.
"The kids were really disappointed and kind of confused because they felt like they had done the things necessary to win the game and, unfortunately, to have that taken away in such a short few seconds, it was disheartening. But we have to regroup because we play another national-caliber team (today)."
The loss comes a day after the Panthers stunned Riverdale Baptist of Upper Marlboro, Md., ranked No. 5 in the country by MaxPreps and No. 8 by USA Today, in the first round.
Hoover is not ranked nationally, but recently defeated Norcross, Ga., which is No. 20 in the USA Today poll. Norcross toppled nationally-ranked Springfield on Thursday.
For South Medford Friday, senior guard Yaremi Mejia scored 20 points, including two clutch fourth-quarter 3-pointers that helped South erase an eight-point lead by Hoover in the last three minutes. Senior guard Kylie Towry added 12 points and two steals, and Bolston six rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Sophomore guard Andee Ritter capped South's comeback by nailing a deep 3-pointer to tie the game with 17 seconds to go. The Panthers' defensive pressure created a turnover seconds later, setting up the controversial conclusion.
Webb, a 6-foot-2 center who's committed to Division I Vanderbilt, scored 16 points and helped Hoover outrebound South Medford 25-19. Breigha Wilder-Cochran, another Vanderbilt recruit, also scored 16 for Hoover, and Kara Rawls, who's headed to Alabama, added nine.
After falling behind early, South, which shot 42 percent (20-for-48) from the field, overcame early foul trouble to outscore Hoover 18-11 in the second quarter and take a 26-23 lead into the halftime break. The game was tied heading into the fourth, where Hoover jumped out to its biggest lead of the game.
The Panthers rallied, drawing even on a Ritter 3 that was taken a foot behind the line, but ultimately could not overcome Hoover's 17-4 advantage at the charity stripe. Hoover attempted 30 free throws to South's four.
"We were disappointed," Cole said, "but I was proud that even though things weren't going our way they really showed a lot of character by hanging in the game and demonstrating good sportsmanship in the face of more than just adversity. They had a sense of frustration because their feelings were that the calls were not going our way, but we still had an obligation to play hard and we did. "…They represented our school and our team with dignity."
Cole is confident that the Panthers will shake off the loss before today's third-place game.
"We'd like to regroup and put (Friday's) game behind us and try and come home with a third-place trophy, which would certainly make the trip a little easier coming home."
SOUTH MEDFORD (52) — Towry 12, Ritter 6, Bolston 4, J. Tago 8, Sleezer 2, Falls 0, Mejia 20, Cox 0. Totals: 20 4-4 52.
HOOVER (53) — Breigha Wilder-Cochran 16, Smith 5, Brown 0, Mitchell 7, Kara Rawls 9, Hunter 0, Marques Webb 16. Totals: 17 17-30 53.
South Medford 8 18 15 11 — 52
Hoover 12 11 18 12 — 53
3-point goals — South Medford 8 (Mejia 4, Ritter 2, Towry 2), Hoover 2 (Smith 1, Webb 1).