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WASHINGTON D.C. — The South Medford girls basketball team completed a successful foray into high-level national competition Saturday, beating Cicero, N.Y., 42-40 for third place in the National Title IX Holiday Invitational Classic.
The Panthers (6-2) built a five-point lead late in the game on free throws by Kylie Towry and Yaremi Mejia and held on. Cicero scored a last-second basket to make the final margin closer at the Trinity Center.
South Medford, the top-ranked Class 6A team in Oregon, earlier defeated Riverdale Baptist of Upper Marlboro, Md. — a squad ranked in the top 10 nationally — and suffered an emotional loss to Hoover, Ala., on Friday when a number of calls didn't go its way.
"That's why we came here," said Panthers coach Tom Cole. "We knew there'd be good competition. We knew there'd be no easy ones. Every game we played was going to be against top-caliber high school programs around the country. We wanted it to benefit us in preparing for conference, and I think it did that."
South Medford opens Southern Oregon Hybrid play at home against Roseburg on Friday.
Hoover, which defeated the Panthers 53-52 in the semifinals, won the championship Saturday over Our Lady of Good Counsel from Olney, Md.
The game against Cicero ended a long week for South Medford, which traveled for 11/2 days around Christmas, attended conference workshops, went on sightseeing excursions and faced top-flight opponents.
The schedule and a disciplined Cicero team that played tough zone defense took a toll on them.
The 42 points represented the team's lowest total since it scored 35 in a state-tournament loss to Jesuit in the 2010-11 season, a span of 40 games.
"It was a combination of things," said Cole, citing Cicero's defense and his own team's "terrible game of find the bucket. We just didn't shoot the ball very well. We got good shots but we were cold from the field. I felt like the kids were really tired.
"I feel very fortunate to not play very well and still get a win against that team."
The Panthers were only 16 of 57 from the field for 28 percent. They made 4 of 16 3-pointers.
Mejia scored 12 points and Towry 11. Ashley Bolston added seven points, nine rebounds and four steals, and Jasmine Falls came off the bench to provide eight boards.
"We did a little better job of rebounding," said Cole. "(Falls) had a solid game. Her presence on the boards was important."
Bolston, a junior forward, was chosen to the all-tournament team. In the opener against Riverdale Baptist, she had 23 points and 14 rebounds.
Neither team gained much separation throughout the contest.
The Panthers led by three at halftime and one entering the fourth quarter.
"We just really ended up grinding it out for the win," said Cole. "Every time I'd think we had a cushion, up five or six points, they'd come back. They were very disciplined and well-coached. They ran a great system. They're a high-IQ basketball team that forced our kids to play every possession really tough."
South Medford was scheduled to return home today.
CICERO (40) — M. Roberts 7, Corbin 2, Bowles 17, Timpano 8, Miles 2, Nichols 0, S. Roberts 0, Gannett 4. Totals: 16 7-10 40.
SOUTH MEDFORD (42) — Towry 11, Ritter 4, Bolston 7, J. Tago 5, Sleezer 0, Falls 3, Mejia 12, Cox 0. Totals: 16 6-10 42.
Cicero 10 6 13 11 — 40
South Medford 12 7 11 12 — 42
3-points goals — Cicero 1 (M. Roberts 1), South Medford 4 (Towry 2, Mejia 2).