Ashland’s volleyball program had quite a run brewing from 2005-09, securing top-four state trophies in all five seasons.
Forget for a second any thoughts of a crosstown rivalry, Saturday's battle between North Medford and South Medford in the championship game of the Abby's Holiday Classic was just that — a classic.
The Medford teams traded big play after big play for 40 minutes — 32 in regulation and two 4-minute overtime periods — laying it all on the line in front of a crowd that grew more and more electric with every passing moment at South Medford High.
When all was said and done, it came down to who had the ball last and a pair of clutch free throws by South Medford senior Matt Toreson, whose all-net foul shots with 1.8 seconds to go in the second OT secured a 65-64 triumph for the Panthers.
"Kids from both teams stepped up and made some big plays and made some big shots," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. "That's what you want it to be about. Obviously we feel good that we're on the winning side but knowing that you've still got to play them three more times (in conference play), whew, that's a long road, but we're going to enjoy this one right now."
The Panthers (7-3) secured their ninth Abby's Holiday Classic title with Saturday's win and second in the past three years at the expense of the defending champion Black Tornado (7-2). Also Saturday, South Eugene beat North Salem 72-52 in the third-place game, while Redmond earned its first tourney win with a 57-26 rout of Del Norte.
"It's one of the better basketball games I've been involved in and I've been in some pretty good ones," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "That's a classic. A block/charge call comes down to the end, it went South Medford's way and the guy made clutch free throws. Guys were just making shot after shot, clutch play after clutch play. It was unbelievable."
The final 30 seconds of the second OT were as clutch as it gets, with South Medford senior Jesse Mondry hitting a stepback jumper to give his team a 63-62 lead with 15 seconds to play. In a blur the lead was back on North Medford's side as sophomore Tristen Holmes converted a floater on his drive to the basket with eight seconds to go.
The Panthers quickly inbounded the ball and got it up to Toreson near midcourt. He hesitated for a second before taking it strong to the right side of the basket, drawing a blocking call against Landon Sherbourne with 1.8 seconds remaining. After a timeout by North, Toreson calmly splashed both free throws for a 65-64 Panther lead.
"I just wanted to take it to the hole, I had so much adrenaline and I just had confidence," said Toreson, who had seven of his 13 points in the overtimes. "Once I got fouled and they called that timeout, Murph grabbed me and told me that he wouldn't rather have anyone else take these free throws than me and that gave me all the confidence in the world to knock them down. I wanted to do it for us and for Murph. It really meant a lot to me."
Afterward, Plankenhorn had to give credit where credit was due given the circumstances.
"Those were huge free throws in a really loud atmosphere," he said of Toreson's foul shots. "I'm sure he hasn't been there before in that situation and he made them both just absolute no rim."
Added Toreson: "It got pretty loud in there and I was excited but I was just ready, too. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time and I just wanted to make the most of it. I stepped up with confidence and knocked them both down."
Following another timeout, the Black Tornado drew up one final play but it got disrupted when Julian Gray's inbounds pass was deflected by South's Adrian Garcia. Brandon DeBerry picked up the loose ball and tried to turn and heave a desperation 3-pointer before time expired but the attempt was well off the mark.
"It was everything we thought it would be," Murphy said of the matchup. "They're a very good basketball team and we're trying to become a good basketball team and you do that by playing good people. It was a tremendous high school basketball game and for the most part, most of the North-South games are. Obviously it could've gone either way a number of different times and it was almost one of those situations of who ended up with the ball last. It happened to be us and Matt just made a great play to get to the basket and then hit those two free throws.
"He really stepped up big and I'm awfully proud of him and happy for him because I know basketball's important to him and it's neat to see kids have that kind of success," Murphy added.
South Medford built a 46-35 advantage three minutes into the fourth quarter but North Medford answered in impressive fashion by dialing up its defensive pressure and going a perfect 6-for-6 from the field the rest of the way to force overtime tied 48-all.
The Tornado's fourth-quarter comeback started with a 3-pointer by Holmes and included three driving baskets by senior Oshea Bailey to erase the deficit. South Medford had a chance to win in regulation but Mondry's jumper went off the back iron and Mark Winans' tip rimmed out at the buzzer.
Holmes, who finished with a game-high 25 points, struck first in the first overtime on a transition layup following a block by Gray, but Garcia set up a Toreson 3-pointer and Mondry basket to reclaim the lead for South. Holmes tied it with a fadeaway 3-pointer with 22 seconds to go, only to have Toreson answer with a basket 11 seconds later. Undaunted, Bailey split the defense to tie it 55-all with three seconds to go.
The second OT began with a 3-pointer by Garcia, who played all but a few minutes in the tilt, but soon was tied again on a three-point play by DeBerry. Bailey's driving basket answered a free throw by Garcia to put North up 62-61 and, after Gray forced a turnover, the Tornado missed a good chance to seal it when Bailey came up empty on two foul shots with 32.5 seconds left. North was only 5-for-14 from the foul line, and 1-for-5 in the overtimes.
Mondry led South with 17 points and six rebounds, while Garcia had 15 points, eight rebounds and five assists, Winans had seven points, five assists and four rebounds and Tristian Lallo pulled down six rebounds with two steals.
For North, Holmes added four assists, three rebounds and two steals while nearly doubling his scoring average of 13 points per game, while Bailey had all 10 of his points from the fourth quarter on to go with four assists. DeBerry had 10 points and six boards and Aaron Browne-Moore added six points and six rebounds. Gray also had seven points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and a sweet one-handed dunk on a breakaway late in the third quarter.
"It's a group effort," added Holmes. "We all went out there with 100 percent, it's just unfortunate that we came out with the loss."
NORTH MEDFORD (64) — Holmes 25, Bailey 10, DeBerry 10, Gray 7, Browne-Moore 6, Knox 2, Klug 2, Sherbourne 2, Reyes 0. Totals: 28-61 5-14 64.
SOUTH MEDFORD (65) — Mondry 17, Garcia 15, Toreson 13, Winans 7, Carpenter 4, Robertson 3, Lallo 2, Orndoff 2, Keepes 2, Monical 0, Massey 0. Totals: 24-55 12-15 65.
North Medford 15 8 10 15 7 9 — 64
South Medford 9 15 16 8 7 10 — 65
3-point goals — North Medford 3-10 (Holmes 3), South Medford 5-14 (Winans 1, Robertson 1, Mondry 1, Toreson 1, Garcia 1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry